Originally published in the Times Argus on March 26 as part of their “Vermont by Degrees” series.

Emily McCall never thought she would be able to go to college. A married mother of two in her late twenties, she was working full-time as an LNA at Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC) and wanted to continue her education, but “to leave my job, which I absolutely love, to go back to school, didn’t seem doable, and it didn’t seem worth it.”

In 2019, Emily learned about a unique opportunity to continue working while studying to become a nurse. Through an “earn-while-you-learn” program offered in partnership with the Community College of Vermont and Vermont Tech, CVMC is growing its own workforce by providing incumbent LNAs with a practical way to pursue LPN licensure. Following an apprenticeship model, students take prerequisite course work at CCV before enrolling in the LPN program at Vermont Tech. CVMC covers tuition and provides flexible scheduling. Last summer, Emily completed the program and began work as an LPN.

In the near future, 100% of Vermont’s high-wage, high-growth jobs will require education beyond high school. But as of 2018, only about half of our working-age population held a post-high school credential. On the flipside of Vermont’s workforce challenge, thousands of jobs are going unfilled, with crucial sectors such as healthcare and child care in crisis as a result.

Like Emily, most Vermonters can’t afford to stop working in order to start learning. Cost is a barrier, and so is time. Students come to CCV at many different ages, and at many different points in their careers, but they’re all juggling multiple responsibilities. The nature of work and the workforce is changing, and the nature of higher education needs to respond accordingly. To provide students with the skills they need to succeed—and to provide Vermont employers with the talent they need to serve our communities—postsecondary education needs to evolve for affordability and efficiency.

CCV was founded on the mission of access, and access remains our North Star. When it comes to serving Vermonters, this means delivering clear, flexible pathways to valuable credentials. Programs like registered apprenticeship offer realistic alternatives to the traditional model of higher education, allowing students to save time and money on postsecondary education and training.

Registered apprenticeships at CCV pair credit-bearing classes with on-the-job learning, and are designed to bridge gaps between students and employers in the high-demand fields of healthcare, manufacturing, and business. In healthcare, CCV partners with both hospitals and small businesses to help employees continue working while gaining the skills they need to advance their careers. In addition to the LNA-LPN pathway, a pharmacy technician apprenticeship is offered in partnership with UVM Health Network as well as pharmacies such as Rutland Pharmacy. We also offer an accelerated medical assisting apprenticeship at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

In manufacturing, we work with businesses like Darn Tough and Orvis to deliver a production technician apprenticeship, and this spring, the College announced a new certified public bookkeeper apprenticeship that provides pathways to careers in bookkeeping and accounting. These programs are a win-win, helping Vermont employers fill high-need positions and helping Vermont workers build a better future.

Emily McCall is the first in her family to graduate from college. “It is a dream come true,” she says of her journey to becoming an LPN. “I never thought I would be able to tell folks, ‘I am a nurse.’” It wasn’t easy balancing school, work, and family, but she had strong support from colleagues, her employer, and her learning community. “You have to commit yourself 150%. Is it worth it? Absolutely.” For Emily, the earn-while-you-learn approach to education was “a total life-changer.”

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