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Hospitals Are Desperate for Workers. They Might Find Them in High Schools.

Public school students in Boston will have a direct route to guaranteed jobs with the city’s largest employer, the Mass General Brigham health system, via a new initiative that will pair high schools eager to expand career training with hospitals desperate for workers.

A $38 million investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies — the largest gift in the history of the city’s public schools — will transform a small existing high school into an 800-student feeder for the sprawling Mass General system, which is currently plagued by some 2,000 job vacancies.

Boston is one of 10 cities or regions where Bloomberg has pledged to spend a total of $250 million over five years pairing hospitals with high schools. Students will earn college credits as they train for careers in nursing, emergency medicine, lab science, medical imaging and surgery.

But in a nod to evolving views on higher education, and to surging demand for vocational training, the program will prepare thousands of students to start full-time jobs upon graduation instead of college if they choose.

“There’s a growing sense that the value of college has diminished, relative to cost,” Howard Wolfson, education program lead at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said in an interview on Tuesday. “This should not be construed as anti-college — every kid who wants to go should have the opportunity. But at the same time, we have to acknowledge the reality that, for a lot of kids, college is not an option, or they want to get on with their careers.”

The foundation started by Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who grew up in a Boston suburb, will establish similar partnerships between schools and hospitals in New York, Philadelphia, Nashville, Houston, Dallas, Charlotte and Durham, as well as in rural areas in Tennessee and Alabama.

In Boston, the money will allow the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers to gradually double its enrollment to 800 students from 400 and offer five health care career tracks instead of the current two. The new curriculum will be developed by Mass General Brigham.

Students will choose a specialty by the end of 10th grade, then spend time as juniors and seniors training in hospital labs, emergency departments and other such settings, the school said.

Founded in 1995, the Kennedy Academy has a waiting list of 400 students, its leaders said. That mirrors interest in vocational training seen around the state and country. A 2019 state report on vocational education in Massachusetts found that student demand had increased by 33 percent in five years, with vocational school enrollments falling far short of projected job needs in health care and other fields.

Supporters of vocational schools have pushed the state to fund more of them, and to adopt a lottery admissions system for existing programs, arguing that students of color have been unfairly excluded.

Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston said the project will be a “game changer,” helping to build a stronger, more stable middle class in a city that ranks among the most expensive in the country.

“For our community members to be able to step into well-paying jobs where they’re desperately needed,” she said, “that builds on-ramps to higher-paying careers that allow you to stay in the city and serve your community.”

Median starting salaries for some of the jobs that students will train for range from $56,000 for surgical technologists to $71,000 for respiratory therapists, according to Bloomberg.

More than 90 percent of students at the Kennedy Academy are Black or Hispanic; 85 percent are classified as “high needs,” meaning that they are from low income households, are multilingual English learners, or have disabilities. To ensure that students succeed, the gift from Bloomberg includes money for supports such as school social workers and mental health clinicians.

Dr. Anne Klibanski, president and chief executive of Mass General Brigham, said the partnership will diversify the system’s work force, helping it more closely mirror the increasingly diverse city it serves. Filling vacant jobs will also help cut wait times for patients and ease burnout among overextended employees, she said.

Mr. Wolfson said he envisions cities across the country setting up similar pipelines to fill 2 million job openings in health care, a number projected to double by 2031. In Boston, Mary Skipper, the schools superintendent, said she can imagine feeder schools to help address the critical national shortage of teachers in addition to health care workers.

“It’s a very powerful model,” she said. “It sets a blueprint.”

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