Enhancing Job Opportunities and Advancements for Black Americans

Re-imagine hiring and growth models



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By Gina Cronin, FACHE, Chief Talent Officer, Cleveland Clinic Health System

According to research by OneTen, half of Black Americans work in three industries: healthcare, retail and foodservice. Most work on the frontlines and hold jobs that present few opportunities for advancement. Only 7% advance to managerial roles. Even fewer, 4%, serve in senior leadership positions.

For the past year, executives from various industries have been collaborating to improve workplace career growth for Black Americans. These leaders, including those from Cleveland Clinic, are members of the OneTen coalition (Cleveland Clinic is a OneTen founding member organization). The coalition aims to hire, promote and advance one million black Americans into family sustaining careers over the next 10 years. To achieve its goal, OneTen’s work is driven by a skills-first approach, focusing on competencies, to close the opportunity gap and ignite potential for generations to come. Efforts include reducing exclusionary hiring practices, identifying robust and new talent sources, ensuring adequate and equitable career pathways for advancement, and connecting potential employees to partner employers.

Through our work with OneTen, Cleveland Clinic Caregiver Office leaders have developed several new strategies for hiring and promoting Black Americans within our health system. Since implementing these re-imagined practices, we’ve seen positive results and we are confident that other HR leaders can achieve the same.

Skills-first hiring

One of OneTen’s most notable research findings is that 76% of Black workers do not have four-year degrees. Yet, many job applications require that for an applicant to be considered for a position – closing the door before it is ever opened. Most organizations want to invite people in, not shut them out. Changing this traditional hiring practice has the potential to revolutionize the hiring of Black Americans.


At Cleveland Clinic, we reviewed 2,000 jobs to further evaluate the need for a degree versus certain skills requirements and remove educational requirement barriers. We found that experience often offsets education. For example, many positions can be fulfilled by people who haven’t earned a bachelor’s degree but have five or fewer years of relevant work experience. And these are middle-skill jobs, such as IT or radiology technician positions, that offer family sustaining wages. We are planning to evaluate 4,000 additional job descriptions in early 2022.

Meaningful career paths

Organizations that want to improve inclusivity should seek to provide careers instead of jobs. Giving all employees clear paths to develop and advance their careers benefits everyone, including Black employees, the organization and communities served. At Cleveland Clinic, we created paths leading from entry level roles into more complex careers with an eye toward increasing access for Black caregivers.

These pathways encompass a variety of work areas, including environmental services, health unit coordinators, medical assistants, patient care nursing assistants, patient transporters, phlebotomy technicians and more. Creating career paths requires a few key considerations:

  1. It should ensure that employees are aware of development opportunities.
  2. It should support employees through meaningful development.
  3. Managers must be apprised of employees’ career interests, advocate for employees and encourage upward progression.

When developing pathways, a career-path guide can show employees and managers a customized view of progression options and the necessary skills, education and experience needed to develop toward the opportunity.

Career profiles are a good complement to the guide. Profiles should be simplified, easy-to-read descriptions of jobs that offer a clear understanding of what a day in the life of the position might be like. A development guide that outlines available resources for employees to gain education, skills and experience for the desired position is also helpful. And nothing is better than seeing success first-hand, so sharing success stories from employees who started in entry-level positions and advanced greatly can be highly inspiring.

At Cleveland Clinic, embedded program managers help with career readiness, sourcing and preparing employees for future job opportunities. They serve as coaches and guide employees in growing skills within pathways. They are also partners in accountability.

Power of apprenticeships

According to OneTen, “Apprenticeships are a radically different way of developing talent. Learn and earn programs that combine meaningful on-the-job experience with aligned classroom learning results in competitive candidates and employees with valuable and portable postsecondary credentials.”


Cleveland Clinic launched its first apprenticeship offering in October 2021 in the Pharmacy Department. The second, in IT, will debut in early 2022, followed by Finance and Imaging. Apprenticeships last one year.

Three things we learned when standing up our apprenticeship program were:

1. Soft-skills development is necessary to set up apprentices for success.

2. Coaching apprentices on work and life needs is extremely helpful.

3. Program managers are vital to assist with coordinating resources. (Cleveland Clinic created a Career Readiness Coordinator position.)

It’s also wise to build a platform of wrap-around support services, such as program mentors; adequate technology, coaching and support resources; online learning partners who specialize in credentialing; dedicated hiring teams within the apprenticeship department or area; and HR leaders who are committed to ensuring the success of each apprentice.

Measuring success is important. Organizations should, at a minimum, monitor internal promotions, new hires, turnover rates and caregiver engagement.

In alignment with OneTen’s goals, Cleveland Clinic is committed to hiring, upskilling, and/or promoting 500 Black individuals each year into opportunities for advancement. Thanks to the new hiring and growth practices, as well as Cleveland Clinic’s commitment to hiring within the city of Cleveland, the health system exceeded its goal in 2021.


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