Valley Employers Court Choffin Nursing Students during Job Fair

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Since she was five or six, Rickia Alli has wanted to be a nurse.

“My mom is a registered nurse. So looking up to her made me want to be a nurse as well,” Alli said.

As the licensed practical nurse student at Choffin Career & Technical Center prepares for graduation this year, she took another step in following in her mother’s footsteps as she met with employers during a job fair for practical nursing and surgical technology students at the school.

Alli and the rest of the nursing students on-hand met with hiring representatives, collected information about the employers and passed out resumes. Given the need for nurses in the area, Alli said she’s confident she’ll find a job after graduation. And while she hasn’t decided what type of provider she’d like to work for, she’s keeping her options open.

“I’m willing to go anywhere,” she said. “I do want to be in a facility where they care about their employees and care about the residents.”

The event was held in conjunction with Nurses’ Week, which runs from May 6 to 12. Nursing and surgical technology students met with employers on-hand, including Mercy Health – Youngstown, Steward Medical Group, the Surgical Hospital at Southwoods, Windsor House, Briarfield, Shepherd of the Valley, Belmont Pines Hospital, Quickmed Urgent Care, Woodlands at Austinwoods, Vibra Hospital of Mahoning Valley, Meridian HealthCare, WayMaker MedStaff and Sharon Regional Medical Center.

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Gallery photos include instructors Sharon Nwankwo and Al Davis, students Jessica Cunningham and Taylor Costello, and recruiters Michael Provance from Steward, Morgan Kraynek from WayMaker and Melinda Hannon from Windsor House.

This was the first time Choffin has held such an event for its nurses, said Sharon Nwankwo and Al Davis, both registered nurses and nursing instructors at the school. Choffin wanted to show students how much need there was locally.

“We have to appeal to this generation and show them the value of being a nurse,” Nwankwo said. “It’s like with any career. You want to show that there is a need for nurses, and that if you go in this field, you will get a job.”

Having the vendors on-hand also demonstrated the variety of pathways available to nursing students, Nwankwo said. Local options include long-term care, nursing homes, acute care, general practitioners, schools and even correctional facilities, among others.

“We’re telling them [to] define where they fit,” she said. “If you find what you’re passionate about, you’ll make a difference.”

Locally, the greatest need they see is in long-term care, as well as acute care.

“Especially with the COVID crisis and things like that … they’re the ones who are affected most,” Davis said.

Students Taylor Costello and Jessica Cunningham both aspire to work in long-term care. Initially, Costello wasn’t interested in nursing homes, but spending her clinical hours working in long-term care changed her perspective, she said.

“I’m young and I want to go and take care of the people who need it the most,” Costello said. “So I’m thinking about going into long-term care just because I can put in the hours.”

Cunningham had essentially been a caretaker since graduating high school, starting with her grandparents, she said.

“I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the older generation,” she said. “I feel like it’s an honor to take care of those who have taken care of us.”

Both students plan to work locally. Cunningham said she’s interested in finding a place that will help her specialize as well as set defined expectations. “I like expectations a lot,” she said.

Costello wants to eventually go back to school to become a registered nurse, she said. She also wants a good work/life balance. Before nursing school, Costello worked in food service.

“When I’m there, I want to give everything I can when I’m at work,” she said. “But when I get home, I want to have a balance.”

Career advancement is important to Chondia Barnes as well. Barnes is eager to get to work, and says she’s looking into wound care, working with children or mental health. She’s also interested in working at a hospital or a physician’s office, she said.

“I think longevity is important,” said Barnes, who worked as a state-tested nursing assistant before pursuing her LPN at Choffin. “Being able to move forward and not just be in one spot.”

Tuition reimbursement and loan repayment were common incentives being offered by employers.

Mercy Health encourages its employees to expand their skills and offers tuition assistance and student loan repayments to aid them in doing so, said Paula Yakobov, associate recruiter.

“Employees are strongly encouraged to take advantage of those,” she said.

The health-care provider also helps transition LPNs into a hospital environment if they start in the nursing homes, added Arisha Williams, talent acquisition supervisor.

“They really can build on their skills,” Williams said. “They get extended orientation, they get partnered with a preceptor and they can work in some of our trauma units.”

Overall, hiring has been a challenge for health-care providers interviewed by The Business Journal on Tuesday.

Currently, Mercy needs about 20 to 30 LPNs to work in its long-term care locations in Austintown and North Lima, and another 200 between its three area hospitals: St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital and St. Joseph Warren Hospital.

The biggest obstacle is competing for workers locally, as well as with the pay rates for traveling nursing opportunities, which can be higher because relocation expenses are factored in, Williams said.

Mercy starts nurses at $26.50 hourly and offers incentives, such as shift differentials, bonus payouts and comprehensive benefits, she said.

Student Chondia Barnes meets with Vibra’s Pamela Hall.

“We have a vast network, so the benefits costs are down,” she said. “And that’s more money in their pocket.”

The pandemic prompted an exodus of nurses from the local job pool to consider the travel nursing industry, said Pamela Hall, HR director at Vibra Hospital of Mahoning Valley.

“There were many who took that opportunity, and nobody can blame them for that. There was a lot of opportunity that happened there,” she said. “So there was a lot of difficulty with competing for the local talent that was left.”

However, she’s seen an upswing in the recruiting market as those nurses come back to the community. She’s also seeing an influx of students coming into the job market, which makes the event at Choffin all the more important.

For many of the vendors, it was their first in-person job fair since the start of the pandemic.

“Virtual is great, but it’s nothing like being able to speak one-on-one with people about what we do, how we do it and how valuable they are to us,” she said. “It is wonderful to be out and about and actually be one-on-one with folks.”

Vibra, a long-term acute care hospital, looks to hire two or three registered nurses, one or two LPNs, two respiratory therapists and six or seven patient care associates between its sites in Warren and Boardman, she said.

Deidre Watson, HR director for Belmont Pines, said the behavioral hospital for children and adolescents could use another 15 nurses. Watson is hopeful she’ll be able to hit that number with events like the job fair and other universities and colleges graduating more students.

“There’s more labor coming into the field,” she said. “With the pandemic as people start to get vaccinated and people start coming out more, hopefully by the end of the year we’ll start to level off.”

Belmont Pines offers tuition reimbursement and loan repayment incentives, she said. LPNs start at $20 hourly at Belmont Pines, and the hospital offers shift differential bonuses ranging from $1 to $5 per hour, she said.

“The biggest thing is just getting feedback from our workforce telling us what they need,” she said. “That’s been what’s most helpful.”

During the pandemic, Watson noticed a number of individuals crossing over to health care for the pay and benefits, she said. Many of those individuals fit into Belmont Pines’ direct care staff, which is similar to an STNA, she said.

“We’re willing to train people,” she said. “Just because you don’t have an LPN or an RN, there’s entry-level positions that we have.”

Deidre Watson from Belmont Pines receives a resume from Crystal Hamlette.

As a union employer, Steward is always working to renegotiate wages to keep them competitive, said Michael Provance, talent acquisition specialist at Trumbull Regional Medical Center and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital. The provider also has an education program paid for by the hospital and union for continuing education.

“Overall, we’re a community-based hospital. I think we have a great reputation,” he said. “So spreading that word has been really important.”

Trumbull Regional starts LPNs at $22.93 hourly, and Hillside starts them at about $18 hourly. RNs start around $26.91 depending on the facility, he said.

Many of the employers are also offering sign-on bonuses to recruit nurses. At the Steward locations, new graduate RNs can receive $2,500 sign-on bonuses, while those who have four or more years of acute care experience can receive $5,000, Provance said.

Windsor House offers bonuses of $4,000 for LPNs and $5,000 for RNs, said Melinda Hannon, HR business partner. She declined to report on starting salaries.

The company is seeking 30 to 45 nurses between its 12 skilled nursing locations and five assisted livings, she said.

“That’s mostly in our skilled nursings,” Hannon said. “For our assisted livings, we’re just looking for about two or three to round us out.”

Additionally, Windsor House just implemented a student loan payoff program of up to $40,000 for nurses who graduated from any accredited nursing program, she said. The company also offers bonuses for annual performance reviews and attendance, she said.

“We’re motivating people to come to work who are already working for us,” she said.

WayMaker, a Canton-based company that provides health-care staffing services, offers daily and weekly pay, as well as benefits, “which is very rare for staffing agencies to offer people,” said Morgan Kraynek, office manager.

The company also offers attendance bonuses, as well as $25 and $50 gift cards when a facility gives a nurse a good review, she said.

As long as nursing homes have need for nurses, WayMaker will work to meet that need, Kraynek noted.

“We’re just hiring indefinitely.”

Pictured at top: During a job fair event, Choffin nursing student Rickia Alli hears about Mercy Health – Youngstown’s student loan repayment program from Paula Yakobov, associate recruiter, and Arisha Williams, talent acquisition supervisor.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.