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BY KAITLYN MEADE | The feds have enabled a new Downtown-based career training program that officials say will provide jobs to many people who are unemployed around the city.
On Mon., Sept. 24, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis paid a visit to the Borough of Manhattan Community College (B.M.C.C.) to announce a $3 million grant awarded to the school for health service and information technology training programs. The grant, the largest given to a single community college in the downstate New York region, is part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program organized by the Labor Department. B.M.C.C., based in Downtown, is one of about 300 community colleges across the country to receive this funding, which is intended for the development and expansion of career training programs.
“Now is the moment to celebrate a nationwide Department of Labor grant that will enable our college to provide unemployed New Yorkers with the skills they need to compete in the ever-expanding field of health information technology,” said B.M.C.C President Antonio Perez.
The $3 million grant will support one-year certificate training programs in the fields of health informatics, electronic health record-keeping, medical assistance, and medical billing and coding. The project was developed following three years of discussions among educators, hospital administrators, health care providers, labor unions and industry leaders.
The federally subsidized program will also have an out-of-classroom component that will facilitate internships and observation hours for its students. SEIU Local 1199, the union of United Healthcare Workers East, has come to the table to discuss getting students real-world experience in a variety of positions.
B.M.C.C. serves more than 10,000 New Yorkers, including unemployed workers, U.S. military veterans, immigrants, the elderly and the physically disabled, according to Perez. These new programs target approximately 450 workers, including the long-term unemployed, veterans and their spouses, and workers eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program designed to help people hard-hit by the international trade industry find jobs in other fields.
Health care, by contrast, is one of the fastest growing sectors of the nation’s economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects that 5.6 million jobs will be created in health care over the next eight years, including 212,000 jobs expected to arise from the New York State Health Care Reform Act — particularly mid-level health information technology positions for which the new B.M.C.C. programs will prepare students.
“Information technology is a key basic foundation for where we want to go with health care,” said Solis during her September visit to a health information technology computer lab in the campus’s 199 Chambers St. building. “It’s going to change, whether you’re working in record-keeping or working with a physician and getting all that information, because everything is going to be computerized.”
Fortunately, the programs will count for 32 class credits, the equivalent to a training certificate that qualifies applicants for many new positions in the health care industry. Furthermore, the credits are stackable, meaning they will count toward an associate’s degree for students who are planning to continue their studies. The programs will also offer digital course materials that students will be able to access even after they graduate, according to Solis.
“We know that employment credentials are not a luxury in 2012 — they’re a necessity,” she said at the Sept. 24 B.M.C.C. press conference. “That’s why my department has put a greater focus on helping job-seekers earn credentials that can be earned in as little as six months to two years.”
Enrolling in the program, she continued, will be the most cost-effective way to get credentialed. “That’s one of the barriers for many people right now who have been out of work for a long time. They don’t have income to be able to pay toward a four-year education.”
Health care reform plays a large role in the increased demand for job training programs. The 2012 additions to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandated the transition to electronic record-keeping, thereby creating a deficit of people versed in technology. Currently, 51,000 workers are needed nationwide to make this transition possible.
The D.O.L. grant serves the dual purpose of bringing in 450 new students for one-year programs and expanding an existing program in the accredited part of the college, according to B.M.C.C. spokesperson Lynn McGee. “Part of the instruction they get is in the electronic health records system,” she noted. “They get a certificate as an electronic health records specialist.”
Furthermore, B.M.C.C. provides the only associate’s training program in the city that allows students to take the Registered Health Information Technician (R.H.I.T.) exam.
Solis concluded her remarks by stressing the importance not only of finding a job but planning a career. “Over the next decade, nearly half of all job openings nationwide will be for middle-skill jobs,” she said. “These are positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. These are jobs that pay wages you can raise a family on.
“Actually, they’re more than just jobs,” Solis continued. “They’re pathways to better-paying careers.”
To find out more about the B.M.C.C.’s programs, visit the school’s website at www.bmcc.cuny.edu.