Another Push to Prepare Low-Income Kids for Healthcare Jobs, This Time In Oakland

With the aging of the baby boomers, healthcare will remain one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy in coming years, offering career paths for workers at different levelsassuming they have the right skills. In a country where good jobs can be scarce for young people of color, healthcare is a major bright spot. That's why a growing number of funders are focusing their workforce development efforts here, as we've been reporting lately. 

Oakland is one more area where this work is going on, with some major funders picking up the tab. 

"In the next several years, we are expecting over 10,000 job openings in the healthcare field in Alameda County," explained The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Naomi Post. "Yet despite the explosion of opportunities, too many students in Oakland are dropping out of high school or graduating without the skills necessary to secure jobs that pay a living wage."

That's crazy, right? Good jobs going unfilled while high school dropouts flip burgers for minimum wage. And it's a challenge that workforce funders have long fixated on, with mixed results. 

In this case, local arm of the California Endowment has partnered up with Atlantic Philanthropies and just announced $22.2 million in grants to expand health career pathways in Oakland. This large commitment will be distributed to the Oakland Unified School District, the Alameda Health Care Services Agency and the Alameda Health System.

The initiative is bringing together the suppliers of human capital with the institutions that need it, an increasingly common strategy these daysand one that ensures that new skills being developed are really needed by the labor market. 

Career readiness programs and internships targeted at high school and middle school students in Oakland are a key focus of this funder collaboration. The number of students enrolled in health-related career programs is expected to increase from 670 to 1,874 in nine different schools.

"We have the opportunity to increase students' success while expanding and diversifying the healthcare work force to be more reflective of the people it serves," said Sandra Davis, program manager for East Oakland at the California Endowment.

Note the emphasis on diversity. As we've written elsewhere, another priority of funders is expanding the number of healthcare providers of color, since these providers are preferred by minority patients and more likely to set up shop in non-white neighborhoods. The need for more providers in these places is growing now that Obamacare is expanding access to healthcare.

Related - A Growing Priority of Funders: Training Young People of Color for Healthcare Jobs

The new programs may also have the intentional side effect of boosting graduation rates from Alameda high schools. As Superintendent Antwan Wilson said, "Graduation rates are 25 percent higher for students enrolled in career pathway programs, where they benefit from a college preparatory curriculum, technical instruction, and academic and social supports, while taking part in workplace learning that provides the kind of hands-on experience needed to open the door to fulfilling, productive careers."

This particular health-focused program aims to decrease the percentage of high school dropouts by 60 percent, bringing the overall percentage of pathways-enrolled students to 80 percent. These are lofty goals for a school district with dropout rates still lingering in the 40-50 percent range. Another Bay Area funder, the James Irvine Foundation got the ball rolling with all these “linked learning” pathways back in 2007.

But beyond the classroom, the second portion of these grant funds will be going directly to one of the largest public health providers in Alameda County. Ten million dollars of Atlantic Philanthropy’s money will be going to help the Alameda Health System provide internships to students in OUSD health career academies and also to boost services in low-income communities of color.