Going to School, at Work
MADISON - Abe Jawara admitted he was intimidated by classrooms prior to enrolling in UW Hospital and Clinics' School At Work (SAW) program, a 32-week educational initiative designed to give entry-level employees the chance to enhance their knowledge about health care professions and sharpen their job skills.
Abe was raised in Gambia, a West African republic of one million people, where he says there was little emphasis on education. He arrived in the United States in 1998, living and working on the East Coast for a year before moving to Madison.
His interest in medicine propelled him to apply at UW Hospital and Clinics, and Abe was hired by the Central Services department, which handles supply distribution, mail and receiving dock duties and patient escort services.
Though Abe is happy to be working for a prominent medical center, he wants more for himself. But he wondered if his lack of education and hesitance to enroll in an academic program would make it tough for him to move his career forward.
"For me the classroom setting would be a bit uncomfortable," he says.
The SAW program, however, proved anything but.
Abe joined 12 fellow graduates at a reception ceremony Wednesday at the hospital recognizing the completion of the first installation of the SAW program, which concluded last week. The graduates received certificates and copies of Who Moved My Cheese?, Dr. Samuel Johnson's book about dealing with change in a positive fashion.
Diploma firmly in hand, Abe is now planning on furthering his education beyond the walls of UW Hospital. He's interested in radiology and even hopes to someday apply to medical school.
"SAW was a very good opportunity, considering where I came from," he says. "I was able to learn medical terminology, physiology, math … it eased my mind."
The thirteen graduates were culled from an initial pool of 58 applicants, all members of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. Applicants were evaluated based on their job grade, seniority and completed education. Selection priority was given to those with more seniority, lower job grades and less education, as they are the employees who benefit most from the program.
In addition to providing overview information about working in the health care industry, SAW included skill-improvement courses that focused on writing, reading, math, anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. Time was also devoted to keyboarding and computer skills, time management strategies and career planning.
The program is meant to benefit employee and employer alike. SAW participants acquire the skills they need to move from entry-level positions to clinical, clerical and support positions, and UW Hospital and Clinics receives a significant return on its investment - a more capable, confident workforce.
The program's ROI can be measured in dollars, according to Catalyst Learning, the organization that developed the SAW program with the help of a $3.176 million grant from the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.
Catalyst Learning commissioned a study that examined the cost of turnover in clinical and support positions at 16 hospitals that had purchased the SAW program. The study also examined the relative costs of filling open positions with internal promotions versus hiring new employees from outside of the hospitals.
Factoring in hard dollar costs such as severance pay and separation processing with the cost of "lost productivity" (defined as the number of days required to get a new employee up to speed), Catalyst Learning found that it cost hospitals between $4,880 and $13,840 to fill vacated positions, depending on the job.
The study shows those hiring expenses can be almost halved by hiring within, which is where the effectiveness of SAW can be seen. With their new skill set, SAW graduates can adapt more quickly to higher-level positions, and many feel self-assured enough to apply for positions that they would have previously considered beyond their reach.
That was the case with Jame Winn (pictured), another SAW graduate. In May Jame was promoted to her current position, as lead worker in the hospital's radiotherapy department. She says it wouldn't have happened without SAW.
"I wasn't going to apply for my new job but Bob (Halfmann, the SAW program coordinator) said, 'Just do it,' " she says. "The confidence that we gained from each other and our coach is just amazing. Going through the SAW program made me think, 'I can do better, I can do more.' "
"It's been wildly successful," Halfmann says. "I'm really happy with how the students progressed. They gained so much confidence. In some cases folks that are interested in going back to school might not believe they can do it. I think a big part of this program is, now they know that they can."
Date Published: 08/03/2007