How Detroit anchor institutions are developing local talent

This is the first in a two-part series of stories on the workforce of Detroit's anchor institutions. This story focuses on how anchors are developing and retaining local talent. The next will showcase how anchors are attracting talent from around the globe to Detroit.
For many high school students, the idea of 13th grade likely sounds pretty crummy. But for those 44 students that graduated from Henry Ford Early College this year, having passed 13th grade means that they're already qualified to start working in the health care industry. The program begins in ninth grade, and by the 10th students are taking college courses. By the end of the five-year program, they're fully qualified to pursue careers as surgery technologists, medical laboratory technicians, paramedics, and many other occupations. Should they choose to pursue further education, they're just two years away from obtaining a bachelor's degree. It's a tuition-free program that debuted in 2007, the result of a grant from then-Governor Jennifer Granholm.
For area health systems like Henry Ford Health System, the sooner students graduate into the workforce, the better. It's an industry with ever-increasing demand and projected shortfalls in supply. It's why the Early College exists. It's also why Detroit Medical Center has a similar program in Project Genesis, which enrolls high school students in paid summer internships at DMC hospitals, getting students interested and active in health care career paths. Both programs are geared toward typically underserved and under-represented children, benefiting both the community and the health systems themselves, which, in turn, benefits the community.
“The primary reason for Henry Ford Early College was to help the community,” says Marva Brooks, program coordinator for HFEC. “But there is an ancillary benefit, and that's supplying the pipeline for our workforce needs.”
Of course, the majority of people aren't entering the health care field through these smaller, specialized programs. Janet Hash, DMC's director of workforce planning, recruitment, and employment, focuses on filling non-nurse positions like ultrasound technicians, pharmacists, and respiratory clinicians. She says there's no shortage of educational institutions in southeastern Michigan; depending on the job, most positions are represented locally by anywhere from three to seven academic programs. The shortage, she says, are the amount of students both entering and graduating from these programs. This is especially true for the field of coding.
“We start with health care career fairs in high school and try to get these students to take their science and math courses,” says Hash. “These clinical programs are difficult, challenging, and hard to get into. High school can be great preparation.”

"Becoming part of a bigger story"
Teronto Robinson took the long way to enter the health care field. Robinson received guidance from his mother and grandmother but didn't have a male role model until meeting his high school football coach. Programs like HFEC and Project Genesis didn't come onto the scene until after Robinson's formative years. It was the professors and doctors he met at Wayne State University and the DMC who took the extra time to mentor him and set him in the right direction. He's now a third-year resident in the DMC family medicine program. Robinson plans to stay in Detroit and practice family medicine.
“Growing up in the inner city, I never saw a black physician,” says Robinson. “Kids come to the office and they're surprised to see me. I want to show them it's possible. It's about becoming part of a bigger story.”
He makes clear just how important mentors have been in his life. He's now one himself. Robinson participates in programs like Young Doctors of Detroit, telling the children he meets that, “Yes, I'm smart. And you are, too.” Coaches, professors, doctors—all positions of leadership that took the time to usher a young man into a career he didn't even think was an option until, as a child, Robinson watched the character of Dr. Huxtable on "The Cosby Show."
Preparing local college students for careers in healthcare
The city's colleges and universities, for their part, have a number of programs to help prepare their students for the workforce—in addition to their varied curricula, of course. Andrew Feig, associate dean of the Graduate School and professor in the Chemistry Department at Wayne State University, is on the steering committee for two such programs. While each possesses a different focus, they both are designed to prepare students for the workforce.
Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) is a National Institutes of Health-funded program designed to provide experiential service to doctoral students in the biomedical fields. As Feig tells it, the program places students with local companies for internships in order to show students that a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences provides more options than becoming a professor. The on-site experiences give students a sense of just what exactly a certain industry requires of their employees.
A brand new program, also funded by the National Institutes of Health, focuses on better preparing undergraduate students in the biomedical field of research. Research Enhancement for Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (REBUILD) is a partnership between Marygrove College, University of Detroit Mercy, Wayne County Community College District, and WSU.
Catering to an under-represented and economically disadvantaged college population, REBUILD teaches science through actual “new science,” not just canned laboratory assignments. For example, students have worked with local urban farms to study the effects of fertilizer and design best practices for future use. It's an especially great opportunity for students of the smaller schools involved that wouldn't otherwise have access to the advanced research laboratories of WSU.
“Ultimately, the goal is for students to be successful in whatever it is they want to do,” says Feig. “If they know the content matter of chemistry but not how to apply it to societal needs, that person might not do well in the workforce."

This story is a part of a series of features on the impact of Detroit's anchor institutions. Support for this series is provided by a coalition of organizations, including Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Medical Center, Hudson-Webber Foundation, College for Creative Studies, and Midtown Detroit Inc.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.

Photos by Nick Hagen.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.