Jasmine Joseph-Forman is Chief Program Officer at Newark Opportunity Youth Network (NOYN). For the past two years, HFNJ has funded an innovative partnership between NOYN and District 1199J (a local healthcare workers union) to train young people to enter the health professions. In this interview, she explains how the program is already making a difference in the healthcare industry in greater Newark.
What is the definition of an “Opportunity Youth?” And how does training these young people to enter health professions advance health equity?
Opportunity youth are young people ages 16-24 who are not in school and are not working. Training these young people to enter health professions advances health equity by placing them in an industry where they would normally be excluded. In addition, this collaboration and ability to train young people supports diversity in the field and helps to dismantle unfair practices within health systems.
Can you tell us some specifics about how the partnership between NOYN and District 1199J works to prepare students for entry into the health professions?
At NOYN, our mission is to provide young people with the tools, resources, and support they need in order to find postsecondary and professional success. This partnership fulfills that objective through creating an Allied Health certification program within the healthcare industry.
We have built out a comprehensive application, interview, and enrollment process to ensure that we are placing participants who are vested in the program and committed to completion. This process was intended to keep retention high for enrollees. Students enroll in our internal healthcare career track working towards certifications in areas such as Phlebotomy, CCMA and EKG technician etc. The partnership with 1199J provides a seamless transition for young people to access employers and employment in the healthcare sector, while exposing them to sustainable pathways for growth and development.
What do you hear from healthcare employers about their needs in 2023 and beyond?
Specifically going into 2023-2024, the data has shown a severe shortage in nursing on a national level. In order for the industry to continue to grow and sustain itself, the arteries of growth must be focused on the development of young people. This growing need is a direct result of challenges such as current employees aging out, patient care ratio, the increased life span of older adults, longitudinal diseases (e.g. long covid) and the need to increase upward mobility. Hence, the importance of the partnership between NOYN & 1199J - affording greater opportunities for young people.
How has the employment environment for the health professionals you train changed in recent years - especially as a result of the pandemic?
Today, employers require more skilled and qualified workers than are available. We’ve also seen that the average age of those in the health professions continues to rise, and it rose even more so since the pandemic. This means there is a huge need for younger workers. In addition, it has become evident that healthcare workers need to come with stackable credentials and be able to use those skills immediately. This creates a demand for strong employability skills and adequate training.
HFNJ is funding this project for a second year. What were the main lessons and unanticipated outcomes from the first year of the project?
Throughout this grant period, we’ve learned to stay closely connected with the students’ counselors and advocates. We realized the importance of social media apps to communicate with the group.
We initially expected a larger group, and some students were unexpectedly unable to complete the program. Another unexpected outcome was our students' English literacy, math proficiency, and tutoring needs, requiring us to extend the time for teachers and tutors to provide as much assistance to the students as needed. One challenge we had throughout the program was student attendance. To address retention accordingly, instructors and NOYN staff members connected with students via phone and text, reiterated the importance of attendance, work readiness and employability skills - connecting students’ current actions to their future.
We have found that it is necessary to provide tiered-level support which includes observations, assessments and the monitoring of psychosocial impingements, which can ultimately impede on positive outcomes and long term success. This continuum of care has been fully implemented by adding support service staff.
How is this project helping to transform how healthcare is delivered in Greater Newark?
This project has enabled Opportunity Youth to obtain industry-recognized credentials in Allied Health careers and to have access to union and non-union affiliated employers within their direct community. They become a part of a larger network that directly impacts public health as a whole within the City of Newark. It has provided them with employment opportunities now, and a future pathway to even higher-paying careers in fields such as nursing.