Nearly 25 juniors and seniors from Grand Island Senior High attended the Certified Nursing Assistant Job Fair on Friday at Central Community College in Grand Island.

According to Courtney Lierman, talent pipeline director for the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, the job fair was open to GIPS students who completed their CNA coursework and have received their certification from the state of Nebraska.

Taking applications and fielding questions from the students were six area health care companies. The students could be working part time for these companies in the near future.

The job fair was a collaboration between GIPS, the chamber and CCC.

“It is a great opportunity to grow our workforce and provide employment opportunities for students in the GIPS medical program,” Lierman said.

She said the businesses participating in the job fair are looking to fill open CNA positions.

“They are also using this as an opportunity to share with students aspiring to pursue a degree in the medical field the programs, incentives and mentorships they offer for career advancement,” Lierman said.

While GIPS has offered CNA training for a number of years, Lierman said this is the first job fair hosted through the collaboration. They are looking at ways to continue business engagement with students involved in the GISH pathways program.

Providing opportunities for students in the health care field is important for Grand Island’s future as the community has grown into a regional medical hub, especially with the Grand Island Regional Hospital opening next summer, the CHI Health St. Francis Cancer Treatment Center already open and a medical office building to be completed at Prairie Commons in December.

Tabitha, a nonprofit senior housing and care provider, is also interested in building a senior housing and skilled nursing community in the Prairie Commons development.

Health care workers such as certified nursing assistants will be needed to fill not only new positions, but also existing jobs in the community.

The health care providers at the fair included Bickford Senior Living, Country House, Brookfield, CHI Health St. Francis, AseraCare and Riverside Lodge.

CNAs are on the ground floor of patient care. They provide basic care to patients, as well as assisting them in daily activities they might have trouble with on their own. CNAs report to either registered nurses or licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses.

For the high school students, this is their first opportunity to work in the health care field. Not only is it a part-time job, but it also can be a pathway to a career in health care. With the growing regional medical health care provider community, it is also an opportunity for the students to remain in their home community with a well-paying job and an opportunity to raise a family.

Greg Schlegel, principal of the GISH Academy of Medical Sciences, oversees the certified nursing assistant program, along with other career opportunities for students in the health care field.

Schlegel said every junior within the GISH health care pathway takes a course called Principals of Health Care, taught in conjunction with CCC. After completing the course, the students test to be certified by the state of Nebraska as a nursing assistant.

“A nursing assistant is an entry-level job that most students will get before pursuing a career in medicine, nursing or other health care jobs,” he said. “We wanted to have this fair and have them see the value of it.”

Schlegel said what he hears from the health care community is that for a student to get into nursing school or medical school, they either need to be a CNA or have 1,000 hours of patient contact.

He said there is a strong demand for CNAs in Grand Island and surrounding communities.

“It is not only CNAs, but also nursing,” Schlegel said. “We thought this fair would be a great opportunity to connect our students with hiring bodies and hopefully bridge that gap as there is a huge need now and need is just going to grow.”

While he has been at GISH for three years, he said he believes the school’s CNA program has been around for more than a decade and has been successful in providing job opportunities to students in the health care field.

“We want to give every student who comes through our doors that opportunity,” Schlegel said. “We thought this fair would be a good way to connect those kids with the community.”

One of the students attending the job fair was Aliza Garza, a GISH junior. Garza and the other students at the fair recently became certified to work as nursing assistants.

“I knew it was going to be a good opportunity for a lot of students,” she said about the job fair.

Garza said she wants to become a registered nurse and eventually a pediatric nurse.

“This is a really good opportunity to work in the medical field,” she said.

One of the job fair participants with whom Garza left her resume was Country House, which is a memory care residence in Grand Island.

Brenda Wiltfong, senior living consultant at Country House, said CNAs play a vital role in caring for the residents.

Wiltfong said the job fair is a great way to connect with young people who have an interest in pursuing a career in health care.

“It helps us find qualified applicants that can provide great care for our residents,” she said. “We are always looking for compassionate young people that fit into our mold on how we take care of folks in memory care that we strictly do.”

Country House is also an example of an area health care business that helps students with their tuition for programs such as CCC’s nursing program.

“It can be a great stepping stone for folks,” Wiltfong said.

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