Dome Vol. 60 Number 7
Thanks to a jointly sponsored educational program, union employees are going back to school—for free.
“I’ve learned that when things
become hard, you make them
harder by procrastinating,” says
Dale Keels. “Now I consider
school a hobby.”
It all came together one day for Dale Keels in a classroom at Sojourner Douglass College. A classmate came to the blackboard and explained how she solved an algebra equation. Until that moment, “I hadn’t realized how much my GED classes in the Skills Enhancement Program at Phipps prepared me for college,” says the Nelson 5 floor tech.
Now a year away from earning a bachelor’s degree, Keels—who swore off school as a teenager—is one of about 100 employees taking advantage of two programs: the Hospital Represented Employee Joint Training Fund and Tuition Advancement Fund. Sponsored by the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the funds support educational programs to help union employees acquire job skills needed for retention and career advancement.
Union employees are eligible for tuition advancement just 60 days after being hired (a year for the Joint Training Fund). Employees can sign up for either GED preparation classes or the External Diploma Program, which allows employees to apply for tuition for various educational opportunities outside of Hopkins. These include certification programs for nursing assistants, geriatric nursing assistants, phlebotomy training and other certifications, tech programs or college. Or, employees can opt to earn a general studies degree from Baltimore City Community College through classes given in the Phipps building.
Barbara Edwards, workforce education manager, says she doesn’t know of any hospital that offers the magnitude of rudimentary education that Hopkins does through the Skills Enhancement Program—23 classes in subjects as diverse as math, keyboarding, Spanish and medical terminology. “It speaks volumes about Hopkins’ commitment to its staff,” says Edwards. “And it helps employees recognize their untapped potential. I’ve seen education virtually change our students’ lives. At the same time the hospital gains better educated, better skilled employees.”
There’s only one problem, says Terry Olaguer, human resources and labor relations consultant, who represents the council. Less than 10 percent of the 1,700 union employees sign up for the benefit. “We keep hearing success stories for those who participate,” she says. “The money’s there—I wish more people would enroll.”
Edwards suspects that some employees fear failure. “I can’t tell you how many people come here and have no clue how smart they are,” she says. “They’ve never given themselves permission to think beyond an entry-level position. Not everyone will succeed, but most can and many do.”
One such employee is dietary services worker Dominic Ford. He enrolled in the hospital’s GED program because without a high school diploma, he says, “I knew I’d be stuck in the same position forever.” Ford passed the GED test in May 2007. Sean Fields, Ford’s supervisor, says he sees more confidence in Ford, who has already received a promotion.
Meanwhile, Dale Keels is aspiring to become a social worker. “I think it’s important to have a second career, and that’s a good fit for me.” But the greatest reward from his educational journey, he says, is that “now I love learning for the sake of learning.”
– Judy F. Minkove