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April Harrington of the Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative: Fostering Collaboration in Post-COVID Healthcare Workforce Development



April Harrington

Project Manager

Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative


In her role as Project Manager at the Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative, April Harrington has carved a niche in workforce development with her exceptional focus on collaborative efforts, especially in the healthcare sector's evolving landscape post-COVID. Her background, rich in experiences that span various communities and organizations, underscores her dedication to creating partnerships for collective success. With a keen understanding of workforce dynamics, particularly in a post-pandemic world, April's work has been pivotal in aligning diverse stakeholders towards shared objectives.


What is your role at Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative?


In my role as Project Manager at the Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative (CHWC), I manage a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing employment opportunities in the healthcare sector. Since joining CHWC three years ago, I've focused on systems change, bringing together diverse stakeholders for challenging, yet rewarding tasks. My work, particularly in coordinating with hospital systems and community partners, has been key in reinvigorating the collaborative post-COVID, emphasizing impactful partnerships among healthcare employers.

My passion lies in enhancing job quality and aiding people in finding joy and fulfillment in their work.

What inspired your career in workforce development and how long have you been involved in this field?


I've been in workforce development for over a decade, initially focusing on international nonprofit work, especially with refugees. However, my roots drew me back to Chicagoland, where I joined Growing Home in Englewood. There, I developed a solid foundation in job training for individuals facing employment barriers.

This experience deepened my appreciation for the significant impact of work on health, happiness, and family well-being. My passion lies in enhancing job quality and aiding people in finding joy and fulfillment in their work. I now engage with a diverse range of workforce development issues and various nonprofit organizations.


What is CHWC hoping to achieve in the next few years?


Over the next few months and into the future, CHWC is planning to reassess and refine our goals, starting with a steering committee retreat and an upcoming in-person event for employers. Our focus is on leveraging the collective influence of major health systems, representing a quarter of a million employees, to advocate for policy and practice changes in workforce development.



We aim to train over 200 nursing assistants through the Good Jobs Challenge grant, revolutionizing training and career advancement for frontline healthcare workers. Additionally, we're expanding our youth pathways committee to enhance healthcare career opportunities for students and foster a dynamic peer learning environment. This period of exploration will help us set clear, impactful objectives for the future.


Who is eligible for membership in the collaborative?


Employer membership in our collaborative is currently limited to health systems and hospitals, excluding clinics, long-term care facilities, and private practices. However, future expansion to include these entities is under consideration, with a focus on intentional integration and awareness of power dynamics. We're especially interested in increasing participation from community safety net hospitals to address their unique challenges. Members sign a simple MOU, and our steering committee includes major health systems like Advocate Aurora, Rush, and others. Future efforts aim to better integrate hospitals with specific needs, like Cook County Health.

I hope that employers walk away understanding the immense value of collaboration, even with competitors.

We also engage over 20 strategic partners including training providers, community organizations, advocacy groups, and workforce funders. Any organization that wants to work with our major hospital systems to create a more inclusive healthcare workforce is welcome to join.


What significant challenges is CHWC facing at this moment and how are you strategizing to address them?


Like many other sectors, the talent pool is definitely a challenge for us. To address this, we have employer representatives from various roles, including talent acquisition, learning and development, DEI, and workforce development, focusing on targeted hiring, especially in local communities like the Westside Medical District.


We are also focused on two other pillars for success. The second involves education and training, enhancing collaboration with training providers and community colleges, particularly through the Northern Illinois Workforce Collaborative. We're exploring innovative approaches like apprenticeship models in healthcare. Lastly, our focus is on retention and career pathways, ensuring that we're not only hiring for frontline positions but also offering advancement opportunities, as highlighted in our recent research project on career perceptions among CNAs, medical assistants, and patient service representatives.


What common traits do you observe among members who derive the most benefit from their participation in the collaborative?


Members who benefit most from our collaborative are those deeply engaged, particularly those on the steering committee actively participating in discussions, contributing to research, and sharing best practices. These employers have recognized workforce development as a priority within their institutions, allocating the necessary time, resources, and authority to explore and implement innovative solutions. Conversely, some members are eager to do more but face constraints like limited time and lack of upper management buy-in for newer approaches discussed within the collaborative.


Can you share a success story where an employer was positively impacted by the collaborative?


Certainly. At CHWC, we’ve supported the expansion of the apprenticeship model in healthcare, a sector traditionally reliant on conventional training methods. This shift was driven by escalating talent shortages, prompting a reevaluation of training approaches. I organized a learning event showcasing successful healthcare apprenticeships from other regions and connected stakeholders with resources like the Health Career Advancement Program (HCAP) and the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development. Following this, Rush's Chief HR Officer reached out, and with our support, they established two new apprenticeships. This exemplifies how CHWC acts as a catalyst for innovative workforce solutions in healthcare.


What key takeaway do you hope employers gain from this discussion?


I hope that employers walk away understanding the immense value of collaboration, even with competitors. This approach is central to CHWC's success, where employer-led decisions drive our strategies. Effective collaboration requires openness and transparency, often challenging due to internal pressures and legal constraints. However, investing in a regional workforce system collectively, rather than individually, can eliminate inefficiencies and scale solutions. Additionally, our Youth Pathways committee exemplifies the importance of long-term collaboration in shaping future talent. Understanding and embracing this collaborative mindset can yield significant benefits across any sector.






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