Innovative Program Retrains Workers Displaced by Coronavirus

Housatonic and Norwalk Community Colleges are pivoting to meet the needs of Connecticut’s workforce and today’s learners in this unprecedented training and education environment. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a surplus of displaced workers, the colleges are launching a no-cost, fast-track healthcare training pilot program thanks to a partnership between the colleges’ foundations, Bank of America and Social Venture Partners (SVP).

The goal of the innovative public-private partnership is to quickly retrain displaced or unemployed workers, particularly from the hospitality field, and arrange employment within hospitals for in-demand healthcare jobs. Upon training completion and passing licensure exams, students will be prepared to immediately begin in new job positions. Partnerships for clinical and hiring arrangements are with Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Bridgeport, Norwalk/Nuvance Health and Yale New Haven Hospitals.

“Amid the coronavirus, Bank of America committed support throughout southern Connecticut to help our most vulnerable populations. And we are proud to serve as a funding catalyst in addressing pressing needs and removing barriers to financial opportunity,” said Bill Tommins, Southern Connecticut market president for Bank of America. “We look forward to seeing our collaborative planning for innovative new workforce training solutions come to fruition. Bank of America is grateful for our partnership with Social Venture Partners, Career Resources and the Housatonic and Norwalk Community Colleges, which will provide employment opportunities to displaced workers in our region.”

Housatonic Community College (HCC) is offering an accelerated, reformatted Sterile Processing Technician (SPT) program. Learning will take place online and hands-on skills training will occur in the school’s state-of-the-art sterilization simulation lab on the HCC campus. At Norwalk Community College (NCC), the Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) program condensed didactic learning and skills training from a 14-week traditional schedule to a 4-week accelerated plan with clinical rotation in partner hospitals. Instructive learning takes place online, interspersed with hands-on skills lab practice in NCC’s nursing skills lab as well as hands on clinical rotations at local hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.

Dr. Dwayne Smith, CEO of Housatonic Community College, says, “We are proud to announce this uniquely innovative public-private collaboration that effectively responds to the immediate needs of the workforce. Community Colleges like HCC and NCC are on the frontline of our communities, best positioned to rapidly reimagine training programs that positively impact lives throughout Fairfield County.”

“It’s a lot to learn in a little time, but the teachers are great,” said Pamela Aquino, a student in NCC’s pilot program and a former owner of a housekeeping business based in Bridgeport. “Because of Covid, everything went downhill, a lot of clients just stopped. This program came at the right time. I wanted to do the CNA program and I thought, ‘let me try.’ I’m going to start all over, and it’s going to be a whole new life.” Fifteen students graduated from NCC’s Certified Nurse Aide program last week after completing their coursework and clinical rotations. “The program an impressive 83% graduation rate, higher than previous non-accelerated classes,” said Dr. Kristina Testa-Buzzee, Chief Regional Workforce Development Officer for Connecticut Community Colleges Shoreline West Region.

In response to employer demand, the CNA and SPT training programs were chosen specifically for their growth potential. As baby-boomers age, healthcare workers will be needed to help care for an increasing number of older patients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for both nursing assistants and sterile processing technicians is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations.

Hospitality industry workers were targeted for the pilot program because of the soft skills they already possess, such as attention to detail, teamwork and customer service. A total of thirty students were selected for the program by Career Resources, Inc, a workforce development nonprofit in Bridgeport, with qualifying candidates matched to their area of healthcare interest. Scott Wilderman, president and CEO of Career Resources, said “Thanks to Bank of America and SVP, this pilot offers critical skills training at the optimum time for those wishing to transition to a career in healthcare.  The community college system was responsive to in demand jobs and the employer community stepped up to hire nearly all of the graduates. A perfect public-private partnership!”

To safeguard the investment in students, the responsive program provides all learners with wrap-around supports, including weekly, personalized assistance from an achievement coach who provides career counseling. Emergency funds for sudden, unforeseen financial hardships that may interfere with program completion are also available. “We have a long history of creating programs that are uniquely designed to meet the needs of our community by pairing our high-quality, affordable community college education with local employment opportunities,” said Carrie Bernier, Executive Director of the Norwalk Community College Foundation.

Bernie Park, a partner with Social Venture Partners, a co-funder of this pilot, said, "We are excited to partner with Bank of America, employers, colleges, and nonprofits on this exciting initiative to build new career pathways in healthcare, for displaced people and other marginalized populations. We are also happy to see this pilot program expand statewide in collaboration with the Governor's Workforce Council."

During this unprecedented time, collaborations between businesses, educators and employers are an important path for creating real opportunities to quickly reskill displaced workers for in-demand careers. To discuss additional partnership opportunities, contact HCC Foundation Executive Director Kristy Jelenik at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Bridgeport) or NCC Foundation Executive Director Carrie Bernier at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Norwalk).


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