Good Jobs America: Making Work Better For Everyone
by Paul Osterman and Beth Shulman (pgs. 105-106)

Anchoring the Boston economy are the Boston hospitals that, taken together, amount to the largest source of jobs in the region. Add to these numerous nursing homes and other health facilities, and the importance of this sector to the region is obvious. Researchers, doctors, and highly skilled nurses are central to delivering quality health care and world-class innovation, but they are not alone in these efforts. Just as is true throughout the country, a large low-paid workforce labors at the core of the industry: the kitchen staff, the orderlies, the cleaners, the certified nursing assistants, the patient care technicians, the laundry workers, and many others without whom the system would break down. These people come from all parts of the world and speak different languages, but they do have two things in common: they work very hard, and they are poorly paid. Nevertheless, they work in an industry that provides one of the very best examples of what can be done in cooperation with employers to improve the quality of low-wage jobs.

In the spring of 2010, a graduation was held in the auditorium of Children’s Hospital for employees of several hospitals who had just finished a program supported by their employers and several foundations and managed by Jewish Vocational Service (JVS). Some had completed the final step in the “English for Speakers of Other Languages” program, and others had completed a college bridge program aimed at getting them ready to enter a community college. Attending beside the hospital staff were their families, program staff, and hospital managers. It was a happy and proud event, and the most moving talks were given by employees who talked about how hard they had worked, how they could not have achieved what they had without the program’s support, and the jobs or education they hoped to move into next. For these people it was clear that bad jobs were being transformed into better ones.

Jewish Vocational Service is a large agency that operates a wide range of education and training programs in the Boston area. It works with the Russian Jewish immigrant community to facilitate their settling in the area. It has a program with CVS Pharmacy to help people from the community obtain entry-level sales jobs, and then, with enough luck and ambition, move into positions like pharmacy technicians. JVS is beginning to work with a local community organization with roots in the Haitian community to establish a college preparatory program for adults. But its largest effort is with health care employers. The spring 2010 graduation at Children’s Hospital was for employees in multiple hospitals in the area, but JVS also works with nursing homes. These employers have an even higher proportion of low-wage workers because of the nature of the business, which is largely daily care and maintenance of elderly residents.

All of the organizations with which JVS collaborates speak highly of the quality of their instruction, but the impact of this agency’s work goes beyond good teaching. In a variety of ways, JVS has enhanced what might be termed the “education and training” culture within the employers. It accomplishes this partly by encouraging small but significant changes in policies, such as when it worked with Children’s Hospital to enable prepayment of tuition assistance, a change that opened up opportunities for people whose family budgets could not accommodate tuition bills. JVS also hosts monthly meetings with the human resources staff for all of its client employers and in these sessions diffuses best practices. In some organizations, JVS has innovated in pedagogy—for example, by shifting its ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teaching away from chalk-and-talk and toward experiential activities. This led to greater success rates, which in turn encouraged the organizations to expand the amount of training that they provided their employees. In addition, because JVS is an important actor operating at some scale, it can effectively link employers to other actors, such as community colleges or state funding agencies. In short, our interviews with health care providers elicited convincing testimony that the amount of training they provide to their employees has increased owing to their relationships with JVS.