As a part of an initiative to create a pipeline for locally available jobs, economic developers and local educators have teamed up over the past year to bring training for advanced manufacturing into the classroom. With many of these programs in place or expected to start shortly officials are shifting their focus to include another major Texoma industry: health care.

As a part of an initiative to create a pipeline for locally available jobs, economic developers and local educators have teamed up over the past year to bring training for advanced manufacturing into the classroom. With many of these programs in place or expected to start shortly officials are shifting their focus to include another major Texoma industry: health care.


Over the past year, developers and educators have focused their efforts on increasing awareness of local industry among students and offering classes for early certification in high school. As this focus shirts toward health care careers, stakeholders are looking to overcome some limitations on what can be offered.


"In manufacturing, you can go and see the process; you can see the part being make," Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said on Monday. "In health care you can’t do that."


In a DDA board meeting last week, Kaai updated members of the board about efforts to create a pipeline for "middle skills" careers — jobs that require some postsecondary training, but not necessarily a four-year degree. Kaai said locally these are entry-level jobs in both manufacturing and health care.


Kaai said health care positions available in Texoma go beyond simply doctors and include fields that do not need years of training to enter. These positions include technicians, nurses on all levels and other health care professionals. In describing the need, Kaai brought attention to Texoma Medical Center and its staff.


"There are 2,500 employees at the hospital and they aren’t all nurses," he said. "This is much broader than just doctors."


In the first phase of initiatives, Kaai said the DDA and its partners, including both Sherman and Denison Independent School Districts and the Sherman Economic Development Corp., had some success in developing programs for industrial maintenance certification and advanced manufacturing at the high school level.


"One of the difficulties with the health care challenge is finding people to teach it," Denison High School Principal Cavin Boettger said, referring to certified nursing assistant training.


While the high school has two nurses on staff, Boettger said neither could teach CNA courses due to a lack of long-term care experience. Previously DISD offered courses on the certification using an instructor from Grayson College who has since left the college.


Boettger said in 2015 several students got the certification after graduation. He said other certifications are difficult to acquire in high school because they require a diploma.


"The idiosyncrasies of licensing in Texas have been a hurdle for us," he said.


"We are somewhat limited at the high school level because some of the classes that could net (students) college credit have more stringent requirements for instructors," SISD Career and Technology Education Coordinator Todd Gruhn said.


Sherman currently offers a practicum course for juniors and seniors that offers a pharmacy technician certification upon graduation, Gruhn said, adding that the district is in talks to add a certified nursing aid program with Grayson College.


Currently Sherman High School has two full-time health science teachers with a full schedule of classes — a trend the Gruhn said he expects to continue.


With regard to health care, Kaai said there are limitations on what can be taught in the high school level. Also, where student tours of local manufacturers were possible, Kaai said confidentiality and other concerns limit students exposure to some health care paths.


"If kids just read about (careers) at school it isn’t the same as getting to tour a manufacturing plant or a hospital," Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said.


In order to get students some exposure to classes, Bates said educators are looking at using computer programs to allow medical professionals to talk in real time with classrooms of students from the workplace. Through programs such as Nepris, Bates said, panels of experts can interact directly with students, give virtual tours of the workplace and answer questions.


Bates said WST is also working on creating a series of videos to hopefully educate students and increase interest in these career paths. Bates said through these efforts, students may learn about jobs they wish to pursue after graduation.


"One of the things we are seeing is that a lot of kids have no direction in school," she said.


Bates said developers and educators are still looking into possibilities for local health care training and expect to use both Sherman and Denison high schools as a pilot program before expanding it to all area school districts.


Tammy Johnson, human resources vice president at Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center, said many of these "middle skills" professionals are in high demand. Certified Medical Assistants are currently in demand due to changes in October to how charts are coded and read, she said.


Other positions, including radiology technicians and pharmacy technicians are difficult positions to fill once they are vacant, she said.