GREENVILLE – Businesses in Darke County and throughout Ohio are looking at Spirit Medical Transport’s apprenticeship program in hopes of recruiting and retaining employees.
Spirit Medical Transport President and CEO Brian Hathaway gave a presentation to Darke County Chamber of Commerce members about Spirit’s apprenticeship program on Friday at the Brethren Retirement Community. He also presented at the Ohio Ambulance and Medical Transport Association annual meeting in June and received 17 emails from EMS and medical transportation providers across the state who were interested in replicating Spirit’s success in recruiting and retaining employees.
“It’s very neat, and it’s something that we’re sharing,” Hathaway said of his business’ success.
Hathaway, a Darke County native, founded Spirit Medical Transport in 2007 in Greenville after getting involved in the industry as a fire, police and ambulance reporter at The Daily Advocate in the 1990s then working for the Darke County Sheriff’s Office.
His business, which began with eight employees and three ambulances, has grown to 122 employees and 35 vehicles with locations in Celina, Sidney, Van Wert and Liberty, Indiana, along with its Greenville location.
Spirit Medical Transport handles 35,000 to 38,000 calls a year, Hathaway said, but still hasn’t been able to keep up with demand as it has 37 facilities on a waiting list for its services.
“We’ve been successful in growing, which has been necessary to really keep up with the demand,” Hathaway said. “But there’s still a significant demand versus ability to hire people, to get people in the door.”
In December Spirit Medical Transport turned down 422 EMS calls because of a shortage in workers. Hathaway estimated that Spirit had $840,000 in missed opportunities and had $200,000 in turnover costs with training new employees.
Seeking to recruit more employees and retain them, Spirit Medical Transport started an apprenticeship program last year. The academy style program is taught by Spirit employees and lasts seven-and-a-half weeks, much shorter than similar programs that can take six months.
Students receive a stipend while attending the apprenticeship program and have jobs with Spirit Medical Transport upon completion of the course. They sign a two-year employment agreement.
The cost of the program to Spirit is $6,200, Hathaway, but it’s been worth it as Spirit has been able to expand its business in the communities it serves while reducing overtime and turnover costs.
“Our goal really is to maintain the area that we’re currently servicing and be able to potentially help some of those other facilities within the geographical area that we’re already serving,” he said.
Spirit’s first class last fall had 15 students, 14 of whom finished the program and 11 of whom are still with Spirit Medical Transport – better than the 50 percent retention rate it had as its goal.
Spirit Medical Transport is conducting its fourth class now, and when the students complete the course this summer Spirit will have 45 graduates in the first year of its apprenticeship program.
“We’ve had a couple that have moved on, etcetera, so, yeah, there is always that risk, but at the same time there’s benefit to the fact that you’re not only helping people that we have a need for but you’re also helping people within the community because our community EMS organizations need these people just as much as we do,” Hathaway said.
As unemployment rates drop around the United States, Darke County Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Deschambeau said, it’s become harder for employers to find and retain skilled employees. Cutting edge programs like Spirit’s apprenticeship program provide good opportunities for businesses to build their workforce.
“As our experienced workers are leaving the workforce and retiring, finding new employees with the skill-set that businesses require that becomes challenging,” Deschambeau said. “Retention of employees, Brian talked about competitiveness of employees going to another a business that offers 10 cents more an hour, and that’s something that all employers are struggling with, retaining their workforce.”
Spirit also has partnered with schools to recruit potential employees and tries to create a positive atmosphere for its employees by providing snacks and lining up babysitting services.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4312. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.