Wall Street Journal article on Aurora's training programs

June 22, 2005

In a broader story on Milwaukee's evolution away from a manufacturing-based economy, the writer uses Aurora's training programs and philosophy as an example of where the future lies.

Here is an excerpt:

Some hospitals and nursing homes do offer a chance for advancement, including Aurora Health Care, the big Milwaukee-based nonprofit with 13 hospitals, more than 100 clinics and 140 community pharmacies in eastern Wisconsin. But it's not like the old industrial economy when employees made a good living doing the same job for 20 years and then retired, says Aurora's chief executive, Ed Howe.

"The economy we have now... is knowledge-based and so the rewards are different," he says. Aurora's thousands of CNAs typically earn $18,000 to $27,000 a year while about 700 doctors typically earn $240,000 and a handful make $700,000.

Aurora gives entry-level employees opportunities to advance through in-house training programs and tuition reimbursement, which is one reason Ms. Williams has sought work there, unsuccessfully. Demand for the programs significantly exceeds the available space.

Aurora's Abraham Pacheco is one of the lucky ones. His parents were born in Puerto Rico. His mother never went to college, and works in a car dealership. His father didn't finish high school and speaks little English, but worked several factory jobs before ending up on disability. "They had just enough to pay the bills and feed all four of us. They got by. We were happy," says Mr. Pacheco, 20.

His first steady job after high school was earning $9.20 an hour in the kitchen at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center. He had his eye on a better job: surgical technologist, a person who helps prepare operating rooms and assist during surgery. At Aurora, that pays $16.50 to $25.41 per hour.

To get the promotion, Mr. Pacheco needed formal training. When operations used just a clamp, retractor and a scalpel, surgical techs could quickly learn all they needed on the job. Now that they must work with surgical machines costing $1 million or more, they need formal training. Mr. Pacheco enrolled in college but was bored because the classes didn't seem to have anything to do with his career.

Then he learned Aurora was training entry-level employees to become surgical technologists and, with federal assistance, paying them $10 an hour to attend the nine-month program. He graduated in December and now works in an operating room at St. Luke's. Finishing an arterial graft, he displays the notes he took of the surgeon's operating idiosyncrasies that he'll use the next time. "I thank God I got this job," he says.

Most entry-level workers won't be so blessed, even at Aurora. There were 200 applications for the 20 spots in Aurora's surgical-tech program.

To read the full article, entitled "A New Generation Fights to Keep Up," click here (you will need to register on the Wall Street Journal Web site.