SNF Apprenticeship Program Will Take CNAs Beyond Book Learning

Apprenticeship programs are often associated with skilled laborers, such as carpenters or electricians. Now Marion County, Indiana, is going to test the concept in skilled nursing and other long-term care settings.

The Indiana Health Care Association/Indiana Center for Assisted Living (IHCA/INCAL), a trade association representing the state’s long-term care facilities, and EmployIndy, a workforce development nonprofit in Marion County, have partnered to establish a registered apprenticeship program for skilled nursing and assisted living centers in the county.

The program is funded by a grant from the Department of Labor. It creates a path for employers to design an apprenticeship program that is tailored to their staffing needs and combines technical education with hands-on learning. Though this customization means each iteration will vary by facility, the general goal is to get new certified nursing assistants (CNAs) trained so they can gain the skills to become qualified medication aides (QMAs) and work further to become registered nurses (RNs).


“We hope it’s one additional helpful tool for communities to use to help deal with the difficult workforce environment that they’re in,” Zach Cattell, the president of IHCA/INCAL, told Skilled Nursing News.

The problem of labor shortage has been a concern for IHCA/INCAL’s members for years, but “it’s now been hitting a fever pitch,” Cattell explained. And, of course, the issue isn’t isolated in any one state: Staffing woes have vexed skilled nursing and other long-term care providers for years, as a surging economy and growing patient demand has increased competition for a smaller and smaller group of qualified candidates.

So the association began seeking opportunities to partner with other entities, according to Cattell, which led to talks with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.


That department administers the Department of Labor’s ApprenticeshipUSA Expansion Grant funding related to apprenticeships, Betsy Revell, director of business solutions at EmployIndy, explained.

IHCA/INCAL felt an apprenticeship program would be a good fit for its membership, and EmployIndy brought aboard Matt Bender, an apprenticeship representative, to work directly with IHCA/INCAL.

Demand for nurses is high, with hospitals always hiring and increasing numbers of home health companies entering the marketplace, David Schoenefeld, administrator of Waters of Indianapolis, an 81-bed skilled nursing facility in Indianapolis, noted.

“You’ve got a limited supply and it’s a very specific skill set,” he said. “I need a specific skill set with a specific license to go with it. So encouraging people to get their licenses and assisting them to come into the program as quickly as possible is really important.”

Waters of Indianapolis is moving more slowly on the apprenticeship program for now, as it isn’t in immediate need of CNAs, Schoenefeld said.

Still, six facilities in Marion County have committed to the program via a memorandum of understanding, and some facilities are in line to launch the program early next year, Bender of EmployIndy told SNN.

Though apprenticeships have been widely used for skilled labor, they’re less common in the health care field. But other sectors that use apprenticeship programs have seen higher employee satisfaction, retention and greater investment by individuals in their work, Cattell said.

And long-term care work requires skills that can only be learned through doing, Schoenefeld believes.

“Studying all the resident care procedures is nowhere near what it’s like to actually do it,” he said. “Learning the customer service and how to treat people with dignity cannot be taught in a book.”

Written by Maggie Flynn

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