U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis visited BMCC on Monday, observing a Health Information Technology computer lab in the campus’s main building at 199 Chambers, and holding a press conference in Fiterman Hall.
The backdrop for Secretary Solis’s remarks was Fiterman Hall’s sweeping overlook of the gleaming, partially built World Trade Center—a fitting symbol for the economic revitalization she referenced as she congratulated BMCC for having received a $3 million health services training grant through the Labor Department’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program.
The Department of Labor released $500 million in grants to community colleges and universities across the country, and BMCC received the largest grant of its kind in Downstate New York.
The Secretary of Labor goes to class
Secretary Solis’s visit began in a Health Information Technology computer lab on BMCC’s main campus. She shared with students that she is the daughter of immigrant parents, the first in her family to attend college.
“President Obama is so excited about community colleges,” she said. “He’d be pleased to see your faces—and be proud.”
Students listened raptly from their computer terminals. “I like this proposal and I’m glad it’s coming to the college,” said HIT major Anissa Phillip. “I wanted to go into the health information field, but I was told I needed to have a bachelor’s degree. Now, with this program you can start from the lower level and work your way up.”
Credentials students earn through the newly funded program will be “stackable,” Secretary Solis explained, and lead to a one-year certificate as a Health Informatics Specialist. In addition, she said, “the coursework and internship credits will all count toward an associate degree if students choose to continue their education.”
In other words, said John Montanez, BMCC’s Dean for Grants and Development, the 36-month project “will allow the college to align its non-credit health care programs to serve as feeders for its one-year certificate program in Health Informatics Technology.”
He added that it will allow BMCC to create career paths for dislocated workers, “while meeting the critical shortage of skilled labor in the health care industry.”
“Tickets to employment”
“With this grant,” said Secretary Solis, “BMCC will develop cutting-edge certificate programs to train medical assistant specialists, medical billing and coding specialists, and specialists in electronic health records and health informatics.”
Students will complete the program, she said, “with industry-recognized credentials, or as I like to call them, ‘tickets to employment’.”
They will also build valuable skills through internships provided by the project’s training partners.
“BMCC has put together a great coalition,” said Secretary Solis, one that is comprised of employers, members of the public workforce system, and others including the NYC Veterans Administration, New York University Langone Medical Center, and Upper Manhattan Workforce 1 Career Center.
A recession-proof career path
“This field—health care—is recession proof, and keeps growing,” said Secretary Solis. “Everything is going to be computerized, and programs such as this one are the most cost-efficient way to get credentials.”
The program will serve approximately 450 individuals from groups disproportionately impacted by the recession—U.S. military veterans, immigrants, the elderly, the physically disabled, and other individuals determined to upgrade their employability and skill sets.
“Heath care remains the country’s fastest growing sector,” said Dean of Continuing Education Sunil Gupta, “with 3.2 million jobs projected in the next six years.”
The electronic health records industry alone, he said, “is short 51,000 workers, and over 200,000 new jobs will be created over the next five years through the Obama Administration’s Healthcare Reform Act. We want our students to be poised to take full advantage of these trends—and not just find jobs, but start careers.”
A modern model in workforce development
New Yorkers are “resilient,” said Secretary Solis. “They’ll go back to school if the program is affordable and they have the confidence it will lead to a job once they graduate.”
Those jobs are often “middle-skill” jobs, she said, and “require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year college degree. They are jobs that pay wages you can raise a family on. Actually, they’re more than just jobs. They’re pathways to better-paying careers.”
The Department of Labor is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the Department of Education.
“It’s the modern model in workforce development,” said Dean Gupta, “not just training, but training and education. Students will be able to carry credits earned into degree programs and throughout their career. We are extremely grateful to the Department of Labor for giving us this opportunity to serve individuals in New York City looking for employment in fields that will provide a fair living wage."
Keeping dreams alive
BMCC President Antonio Pérez welcomed Secretary Solis and her staff and accompanied them on their classroom visit and tour of Fiterman Hall.
He thanked the Secretary for “inviting BMCC to join with the U.S. Department of Labor in creating something of great importance to America—jobs, jobs and more jobs.”
At the close of the event, President Pérez presented the Secretary with an historic artifact, a commemorative bolt removed from the original Fiterman Hall which was destroyed when World Trade 7 fell against it on 9/11. That building was razed in 2009 and rebuilt, opening for its first semester of students in August, 2012.
“This nut and bolt once held together Fiterman Hall, the BMCC building destroyed by the attacks of 9/11,” he read from the inscription on the Plexiglas-encased bolt. “Thanks for keeping alive the dreams of our students.”