By Bob Audette, Brattleboro Reformer
BRATTLEBORO — Nine local students graduated Tuesday from a Community College of Vermont program especially designed to meet the needs of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for qualified environmental services staff.
The program was the first of its kind in the state and was designed in conjunction with BMH, CCV, the Vermont Department of Labor, Creative Workforce Solutions, the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
“What we are celebrating today is the community coming together to solve a community challenge,” said Michael Keough, CCV’s business and community outreach manager. “Collectively, we have not only created a successful program, but this is a model by which all of our communities can benefit.”
Keough designed the curriculum working with Duncan Hilton, a local instructor and clergy member at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Brattleboro.
“Duncan had a lot to do with embedding teamwork and effective communication into the skill-based training program. He embodies professionalism. I can’t say enough about him as individual, as an instructor. He’s been collaborative, he’s been very flexibly and and he’s been a tremendous partner in this. The program couldn’t have been what it is without you.”
Hilton said the program was designed not only to meet an immediate need at the hospital, but also to help people who have been unemployed or underemployed transition back into work. In addition to receiving training specific to environmental services at the hospital, the nine graduates also received career counseling, communication skills, resume building and computer skills.
One of the graduates, Sam Lazzaro, of Brattleboro, said he will only be working 20 hours a week, but he is excited to be working at the hospital.
“Taking the class has given me the opportunity to find a job, because I have been stuck in a job I wanted to leave,” said Lazzaro.
Another graduate, Rosa Cabello, also of Brattleboro, wasn’t able to take a job with the hospital because of her back, but she is happy she took the course to get the certification.
“It probably means I can get a job in reception,” she said. “I am working with the labor department to get more training.”
John Clark, also of Brattleboro, said he has been on disability for three years and has been unable to work.
“I told my doctor it was time to get back to work,” said Clark. But, he acknowledged, he couldn’t have done it without the help of CCV and Hilton. “This program should be taught year after year after year.”
Other graduates included Derrick Bergeron and Melissa Johnston, of Guilford, Eric Castine, of Dummerston, George James, of Putney, and Solasia Graves-Trotman and Jacqueline Jones, of Brattleboro.
Keough said the course was designed in response to a request from Diane Cooke, a job recruiter at the hospital, and Rick LaBrecque, the director of environmental services.
“Beyond the technical needs of the job, they were looking for team players,” said Keough.
Rick LaBrecque, the director of environmental services at BMH, said the jobs the graduates would be stepping into pay $11.70 an hour, and those who work at least 32 hours a week will receive benefits.
“For more than a year we’ve been running short staffed,” said LaBrecque. But for him and others at the hospital, it’s more than about filling the hospital’s staffing needs. “This is good pay for entry level work. Plus it’s a way for people to decide if they like health care or not and want to continue their growth here.”
“It is a job people don’t think about a hospital needing,” said Cooke. “But this doesn’t solve our hiring needs. We always have jobs available.”
Steve Gordon, the president and CEO of BMH, said the relationship between the hospital and CCV started a couple of years ago with a medical assistant program.
“This is the start of a career for you,” Gordon said to the graduates. “Consider this a career ladder opportunity, whether you want to continue in the hospital as a nurse or in the laboratory. Keep growing personally and professionally.”
Before presentation of the certificates at BMH, Keough said the specialized program focused on janitorial requirements in a hospital setting, including infection control and related OSHA requirements. He reminded them the training was not just about jobs tomorrow, but into their futures.
“I implore you not to think of this as a finite experience; it’s a lifelong pursuit,” said Keough. “BMH is truly dedicated to your professional development and I hope you are also.”
CCV in Brattleboro offers 50 classes every semester in the Brooks House on Main Street, as well as 300 online course.
“And we can create new programs if we need to,” said Keough, who added the program is provided at no cost to the students. “We use a variety of state resources for funding.”
Tristan Toleno, D-Brattleboro, said the certificate program points out a common misperception about Vermont’s job market that the state needs to create new jobs.
“That’s the conventional wisdom,” he said. “But what the data shows at the state level and virtually every pocket of the Vermont economy and across all sectors we actually have a shortage of workers. What we need to do is be thinking creatively about how we can support people getting into and returning to the workforce.”
The state has partnered with organizations such as CCV to help people address the challenges keeping them out of the workforce, including health care, mental health, addiction, child care and transportation.
“As a member of the Vermont Workforce Development Board, we have been talking about different strategies to make that happen,” said Toleno. “In the short term we can rely on programs like this that fill an immediate need. But in the long term, we need to think about population and demographics. Vermont is a rural, old, white state in a country where the urban and non-white populations are growing. It creates a huge challenge for us. We also see housing, particularly in the economic centers of Vermont, is a huge obstacle. If you are young and wanting to be in Vermont, it can be very hard to find housing that you can afford and doesn’t put you in an immediate economic hole. That has to change as well.”
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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