Posted September 24, 2020
September 20-26 is First Responders Appreciation Week in Lorain County and the team at LifeCare Ambulance, Inc., is spending the week as it always does: responding to the needs of the community.
“We never know what kind of calls are going to come through,” said LifeCare President and CEO David Richards. “Our team does amazing work to take care of people when they’re at their lowest.”
Providing the best care possible requires continuing education for employees, as well as offering them the opportunity to move up at the company, Richards said. In between shifts as an emergency medical technician at LifeCare, Doug O’Donnell and five of his coworkers quiz each other on material from the classes as part of the first paramedic apprenticeship program in Ohio. The apprenticeship program began this fall as a partnership between Lorain County Community College and LifeCare to offer skills and certification to LifeCare employees who are committed to advancing up the ranks at the employee-owned company.
“The opportunity to be an apprentice is great,” O’Donnell, 21, said. “We are able to move through our classes together, work together, and study together. We are able to immediately see how what we are learning can be applied to our work.”
O’Donnell and his colleagues are current Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) working toward earning the One-Year Emergency Medical Service (EMS)-Paramedic certificate from LCCC, a credential that is vital to advancing to the position of paramedic. In addition to their classes, the group continues to work full-time at LifeCare and gain on-the-job experience. The LCCC/LifeCare program also offers the opportunity for LifeCare employees in wheelchair transportation and dispatch positions to earn an EMT certificate, explained Richards. Both apprenticeship tracks are delivered at no cost to the employee. Offering advancement opportunities to employee makes sense within the company model and in the larger community, Richards said.
“Ninety percent of our employees live in Lorain County. When they increase their skill set, they increase their pay rate, and that advances all of Lorain County. We encourage our employees to pursue a career path that’s very rewarding and also benefits the county,” Richards said. “In return, we benefit from less turnover and increased employee satisfaction.”
By earning credentials at LCCC, employees increase their average pay almost immediately. According to Richards, EMTs at LifeCare earn on average $35,000-$40,000 per year, and EMTs who complete this one-year program at LCCC can see their take home wage increase 19% in their first year as a paramedic.
“Apprenticeship programs are valuable recruitment and retention tools for employers to grow their talent pipelines,” said LCCC President Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D. “By partnering with LifeCare to deliver this first-of-its-kind apprenticeship program, LCCC is helping build the skills of LifeCare employees, enhancing the strength of our community’s first responders.”
The commitment to help employees advance their education has been a longstanding trademark of LifeCare, which operates six locations in Lorain County and employs 175 people. Until recently, LifeCare ran their own employee training program. When they decided it was time to change their model, Richards reached out to LCCC. Richards spoke with LCCC paramedic coordinator Dawn Sgro who serves on the LifeCare governing board and has helped coordinate continuing education programs. Through Srgo and connections at the LCCC University Partnership Ridge Campus in North Ridgeville, Richards was linked to the LCCC Workforce and Business Solutions team, which specializes in tailored training and apprenticeships.
“I’d be working with LCCC for years for various continuing education, sending our people there and covering the cost. Our situation this year caused us to rethink the best way to serve our employees. Dawn was able to help us connect with some options we hadn’t considered, including apprenticeships,” Richards said.
The LCCC Workforce Development team worked with LifeCare to identify state funding to help offset the cost of the apprentice program. By utilizing the ApprenticeOhio employer stipend and funding from the Incumbent Workforce Training program, LCCC was able to help LifeCare save nearly $47,000 in education expenses for their employees.
LCCC’s apprenticeship programs support a larger statewide priority to expand apprenticeships into in-demand industries such as advanced manufacturing, skilled trades, information technology and healthcare. For the past ten years, the Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC) and the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) have partnered to develop statewide agreements in curriculum design with the various trades apprenticeship programs approved by ApprenticeOhio and 23 community colleges.
Students who complete these programs earn college credit, in addition to paid on-the-job experience through their employer. The LCCC credits can seamlessly be applied toward associate degree programs in several relevant programs, depending on the students’ interests and career plans. For example, the paramedic certificate that O’Donnell and his LifeCare coworkers are working toward can easily stack with the registered nurse associate degree program at LCCC.
The whole situation is a win-win for LifeCare, the employee and the community, O’Donnell and Richards said.
“Being able to participate in the apprenticeship program is a huge perk for me,” O’Donnell said. “This is a certification that I wanted to earn and being able to do it through my work and at no cost to me; it doesn’t get better than that.”
“Our paramedics are the best in the state. The training we are able to provide them has to be the best,” Richards said. “People call us when they are at their worst and we provide them the best care possible. Working with LCCC for our new apprenticeship program guarantees we will continue to best serve the people of Lorain County and Northeast Ohio.”