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The Workforce Training System Is Vital for COVID Recovery

By Allison Cook | July 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted both the importance of direct care workers and the challenges they face. To ensure the long-term services and supports (LTSS) sector has enough workers to fill these essential roles, we need to strengthen the workforce pipeline—and a primary strategy is to train new cohorts of direct care workers to fill these vacant positions.

However, the intense pressures of COVID-19 have made it difficult for the current direct care training infrastructure to operate as usual. Training providers have had to drastically reduce or entirely cancel their in-person training programs due to safety concerns, budgetary restraints, and limited capacity to move training content online (when regulations allow). Given these training challenges, individuals who are interested in moving into direct care jobs may be struggling to find training programs that are accessible, affordable, and safe.

As states enter the next stage of COVID-19—characterized by a mix of recovery efforts and new waves of the coronavirus—state policymakers must ensure that training providers have the resources they need to operate high-quality training programs, both in person and through blended online/in-person approaches. Drawing on our experiences in the field and recent conversations with other workforce development experts in New York City, here are PHI’s key recommendations for strengthening the direct care training system in New York and other states.

Prioritize trainee safety

For in-person trainings to be safe, state policymakers should ensure training providers have access to sufficient personal protective equipment, screening supplies (such as thermometers and test kits) and other protective measures. Trainees may also benefit from assistance with transportation costs, to reduce their need to use public transportation.

Design smaller training classes

To ensure a safe distance among trainees in the classroom, the number of trainees per class must be reduced significantly in many cases. Policymakers should ensure that training providers receive adequate reimbursement to cover the higher cost per trainee resulting from smaller class sizes.

Provide training on COVID-19

Training providers will need to infuse their curricula with tailored content on COVID-19. States should adapt regulations and funding mechanisms to ensure that this new content can be rapidly developed and incorporated into existing training programs.

Permit virtual training

With classroom-based training difficult to deliver during the pandemic, regulations and funding requirements could be temporarily adapted to allow certain training elements to be delivered online. Lessons learned from these short-term virtual solutions should inform future decisions about how to develop and regulate online training options for direct care workers.

Invest in technology infrastructure

Since many training providers rely on classroom-based approaches, they will need a boost in their technology capacity to begin offering aspects of their training online. States should provide funding, information, and other resources to support training providers in redesigning their curricula and making informed choices about how to select and implement new online training portals.

Support trainees’ access to technology

Many potential trainees lack access to high-speed Internet, computers (and other devices), and/or the requisite technology skills to take part in virtual training. Policymakers should invest in programs that expand access to technology and digital literacy; options include directly providing technology to trainees (i.e., providing trainees with a tablet and Wi-Fi) or creating a funding pool for providers to cover the cost of offering technology and technical assistance to trainees.

Boost the skills of trainers

Since online training requires a unique set of pedagogical and technical skills, trainers who are proficient in classroom instruction will need additional training and support to teach virtually. States should consider funding initiatives that partner in-person trainers with experienced virtual trainers or to develop “train the trainer” sessions to build these new skills.

COVID-19 has created a range of challenges for the LTSS sector, including straining the capacity of training providers. But moments of crisis also present opportunities. State and local leaders should capitalize on this moment to invest in a stronger, modernized approach to training that ensures employers have enough workers—and ensures trainees develop the right skills and confidence to succeed in their jobs.

Allison Cook
About The Author

Allison Cook

State Policy Manager
Allison Cook is the State Policy Manager at PHI. In this capacity, she engages a variety of stakeholders within New York State and nationwide to identify opportunities and strategies to improve direct care worker job quality.
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