Spotlight on Kim Woods
EMT Registered Apprenticeship: Training The Next Wave of First Responders
There are many ways to build a rewarding career, and Registered Apprenticeship is one promising pathway. That's the motto of Kim Woods, Program Manager at Worker Education and Resource Center, Inc. (WERC) in Los Angeles.
"College isn't for everyone, and there are different ways to be smart and to succeed," Woods said.
She has proudly watched apprentices come from working low-wage jobs in fast food or retail, or from unemployment, to become Emergency Medical Technicians who have passed the rigorous national registry exam. As EMTs, graduates pursue a rewarding career, they give back to their communities, and they enjoy the status and respect awarded to first responders. These apprentices may also use the EMT apprenticeship program as a springboard to other roles such as firefighters.
WERC has so far sponsored three cohorts of EMT apprentices, including a total of 50 apprentices. More than 80 percent of those, 41, took the national registry exam and passed. This result far exceeds the statistics on graduates of traditional EMT programs.
Here's why: traditional programs are 21 consecutive days long. It's a tremendous amount of information to absorb in a short amount of time, and very little time to get a feel for the real-world experience of being an EMT. Many graduates had to take the class multiple times before they were able to pass the national registry exam, at a cost of $1000 per class.
The WERC apprenticeship, by contrast, spreads these 21 days out over five months. Three days a week are spent in the classroom and two are spent participating in ride alongs with firefighters or ambulance companies.
The program is delivered at no cost to the apprentice, due to partnerships between players ranging from private companies like McCormick Ambulance, to public agencies such as the LA County Fire Department, and community groups like the LA county Stentorians, an organization of African-American firefighters. A Baptist church contributes free space to hold the classes. Finally, the County Board of Supervisors offers a stipend to apprentices, to help make the programs as accessible as possible.
One objective of the program is to increase the diversity of EMTs and down the road, to help expand diversity among firefighters, both in terms of gender and race. The apprenticeship program is already making an impact on this front.
For instance, while the LA Fire Department includes only two percent women firefighters, seven of the women EMT apprenticeship graduates are now pursuing firefighter training. This would be a tremendous economic boost, enabling them to earn six-figure salaries and serve their communities.
WERC's EMT program has been life-changing in other ways too. Woods appreciates hearing from past graduates about how they have put what they have learned into action.
"They have some amazing stories, like one graduate who loaded patients on to a helicopter for an evacuation," Woods said. "Some of these stories are miraculous and some are heartbreaking. But our graduates have the skills and training to do their best no matter what."