Johns Hopkins University & Health System

Baltimore, Maryland


Key strategies employed

  • Connect forecasting, training, and hiring departments
  • Collaborate with other anchors and city economic development efforts
  • Offer job coaching for new hires and map out potential career pathways
  • Work with residents with the greatest barriers to employment
  • Provide tuition assistance for frontline employee accessible training


  • Johns Hopkins Hospital & Health System
  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine




Mission of Program

“HopkinsLocal will increase the number of city residents that are employed at Johns Hopkins University and Health System and help a diverse workforce pursue successful careers within the organization.”


HopkinsLocal, launched in the fall of 2015, is an initiative to increase the number of local residents who are hired to work at Johns Hopkins University and Health System. With a goal to have 40 percent of new hires for targeted positions come from selected Baltimore zip codes by 2018, the initiative partners with local faith-based and community workforce organizations to assist in the creation of pipelines to targeted, high-need entry-level positions. Community and faith-based organizations may provide position-specific training, soft skills training, and case management. Rather than ending when a candidate is hired, this support continues through the first year of employment through the help of career coaches employed by Johns Hopkins Health System.

Another key feature of HopkinsLocal is a focus on employee development by leveraging the career advancement services provided by Project REACH (Resources and Education for the Advancement of Careers at Hopkins). An explicit goal of the program is to “support the growth and retention of local and underrepresented employees.” To support this goal, employees are provided with paid training opportunities for critical skill shortage areas and career coaching, allowing them to advance within the institution. HopkinsLocal expands on a long-standing incumbent worker training program, Project REACH, and also a successful paid summer internship program for local youth managed through the Health System’s Office of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development.

Background & Origins

HopkinsLocal was launched in the fall of 2015 but the initiative expands on a twelve-year history of incumbent worker training and community outreach around career opportunities. Project REACH was launched in 2004 as part of a Department of Labor grant to upgrade the skills of existing employees in order to fill high-need positions within the health system. The purpose was not only to fill those specific positions but also to increase employee wages and employee engagement. Part of the logic model was that this would in turn generate new employee job opportunities to backfill the positions frontline employees would vacate, laying the groundwork for a local hire initiative. The program started as an eighteen-month demonstration grant, but the Health System decided to institutionalize the infrastructure developed during the grant. Sitting within the Health System’s Human Resources Office of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development, over 1,700 employees have participated in the program since its launch. Employees receive career coaching, skills assessments, and salary release support for training for high-need positions.

Another long-standing program that connects to HopkinsLocal’s goals is Summer Jobs Program for Baltimore city high school students. The program provides students with an eight-week paid internship in a wide range of departments across the health system. 300 students participate per year. In addition to on-the-job training, students receive mentorship and professional development training more broadly. Students are paid minimum wage, and wages are paid for by the program, rather than departmental budgets.

Program set-up

Director of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development Yariela Kerr-Donovan described Hopkins’ workforce development approach as a four-legged table, the legs being community members, youth, incumbent workers, and jobs forecasting. Linking these different areas creates a robust infrastructure for connecting job pipelines to pathways for career advancement within the institution. A strong incumbent worker-training/education program offers frontline workers the opportunity to advance within the institution, provides them with release time to accelerate their educational attainment, and frees up these frontline positions for other community residents. On the other end, the internship program enables department managers to provide on-the-job training experience to community adults and youth, with the possibility that internships will turn into regular employment.

The HopkinsLocal HireLocal initiative utilizes partnerships with community-based organizations to identify unemployed and underemployed individuals for specific job opportunities. A candidate who applies through HopkinsLocal is guaranteed a first look, which is an enormous benefit in a health system that receives, on average, 10,000 applications a month. At the same time, Hopkins is able to reduce recruitment time and costs and draw from a pool of applicants that has already made substantial time investment in job readiness. One of the program’s key partners is the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, which serves as a repository of community-based organizations, and acts in a navigator role.

Staffing and budget

The HopkinsLocal initiative as a whole involves other elements outside of hiring, including procurement and construction. The Associate for Strategic Initiatives position was created to coordinate the program, oversee the roll out of the initiative, and work closely with Human Resources and the office of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development. Much of the staffing infrastructure already existed in these areas, with HopkinsLocal adding an additional career coach and program coordinator.


Many of the workforce initiatives at Hopkins started as grants and were then institutionalized after the grant period ended. HopkinsLocal as a whole is an internally funded effort, although grants will be solicited to pilot specific workforce and training initiatives.

Key strategies employed

Connect forecasting, training, and hiring departments

A key focus of the Johns Hopkins Health System strategic workforce planning and development strategy is linking department-level forecasting with application pipeline and training initiatives. “We are always checking in with our recruiters and the hiring managers,” explained Kerr-Donovan. This forecasting happens three to four years out, as this is the duration it takes to train someone internally for a number of healthcare positions. If there are any gaps in the internal pipeline, recruitment can focus resources on a specific number of positions, making the process more efficient. However, the priority is to fill the job internally and connect employees to future opportunities through career coaching and assessment. This is not just benevolent, but strategic: “think about turnover and the cost of recruiting an external person compared to providing the salary release support and tuition to keep someone growing in the organization,” stated Kerr-Donovan. By creating institutional infrastructure between forecasting and training, Johns Hopkins Health System is able to build a more efficient pipeline.

Collaborate with other anchors and city economic development efforts

HopkinsLocal is tied into a citywide strategy for inclusive economic development, and the incumbent worker training is part of a larger workforce development infrastructure at the city level. Most notably, there is a citywide intermediary, the Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (BACH), focused on healthcare in particular, “There’s enough cake to go around…let’s organize this in a way so that the real winners are the citizens of Baltimore and the city,” explained Kerr-Donovan when detailing the benefits of BACH. By creating a collaborative environment for anchors, it shifts the mindset from fighting for the same employees and driving up costs for employers and patients, to creating a more qualified pipeline to draw from for all institutions. BACH is able to identify trends in workforce needs on a broader level and offer workforce research support to institutional partners. In addition, BACH brings in a significant amount of grant funding, which can then be leveraged by Hopkins and other BACH partnering hospitals.

Another benefit to this citywide approach is the ability to institute cohort models in a more cost efficient manner. Kerr-Donovan provided the example of putting together a training for surgery technicians: all area hospitals “need surgery techs, but [Hopkins] may need just five and for us to try to do the whole module for just five people, this is not the most cost effective way to train. But now, when we’re talking about University of Maryland needs five, Hopkins need five, Mercy needs five, we can pull that all together.” Rather than seeing similar job needs as an area of competition, Kerr-Donovan highlighted how this can create a more efficient pipeline: all the institutions “have different cultures, and not everyone’s meant to work here at Hopkins…this way, we can all hire the individuals that are the best fit for not only the positions that we have but the culture of the organization. That’s where all boats rise in this instance.”

Offer job coaching for new hires and map out potential career pathways

The office of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development employs multiple job coaches who work with recent hires to help them ensure success in their current positions and develop career advancement plans. The coaches begin working with candidates even before they are hired, administering pre-hire assessments. This is facilitated by the fact that the office sits outside the realm of recruitment. “Coaching and other assistance [for candidates] are things we can provide because we aren’t the central recruitment office. We can ask certain things, do certain things that the actual recruiters can’t do,” explained Kerr-Donovan. The coach’s role is to help create a pipeline of qualified applicants. Coaches do not have a say in whether an individual is hired or not, which in turn provides greater leeway into the type of assistance they can provide. For example, if an individual has a disability and needs special accommodations, coaches help them navigate the institution to make sure that their needs are met.

The coaching does not end with a new employee’s hire. In fact, new hires are required to work with their coach for the first year of employment. “We wanted a year because we wanted that retention at least for a year. Because if someone’s here for a year, we figure that they are going to leave only to get a better opportunity outside of the organization after that time, if they are not able to advance in the organization,” explained Kerr-Donovan. Coaching is a way to ensure that new hires receive the support systems they need, which is critical to ensuring the long-term success of a local hire initiative. There can be substantial barriers to maintaining employment, including: limited access to transportation, inability to afford childcare, housing instability, and lack of experience in a large institution. Coaches are able to help employees navigate these issues, increasing the likelihood of retention. This not only makes the program more successful but also provides cost savings in the form of lower turnover.

Another key component of the coaching is offering immediate opportunities for career advancement. Employees can take assessments that highlight career interest and aptitude, work style, and any major skills gaps. This will illuminate whether an employee should receive reading and math support, for example, or other skills enhancement, in order to meet the prerequisites for career advancement. Coaches use this assessment to help create short-term, mid-term, and long-range goals for employees. Although an employee must have worked for one-year to be eligible for programs such as salary release, coaching and career planning can begin at any time, ensuring that as soon as the employee becomes eligible, all necessary prerequisites are in place.

Work with residents with the greatest barriers to employment

Johns Hopkins has made an explicit effort to provide opportunities for employment to individuals with criminal backgrounds, since this is a population that faces the greatest barriers to employment. 10 percent of hires each year have criminal backgrounds, which is on par with the reentry population percentage of the surrounding community. This is not by accident, but the result of institutional changes to enable hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds. Changes in the hiring process were instituted over twenty years ago, and in recent years,  Hopkins instituted a “ban-the-box” policy, ensuring the criminal background did not stop individuals from moving forward in the hiring process. Kerr-Donovan explained this decision “it’s not charity work…it’s part of our strategic plan, and part of who we are as an organization. We look within our catchment area… Not everyone in the community needs to work here or belongs here, but we are committed to making sure that the ones that are close by and are a good fit for our organization can work here.” A key component to this strategy is partnering with community-based organizations that work with reentry populations. These organizations not only enable outreach to community members with some of the highest barriers to employment but also ensure that candidates already have been screened and have support mechanisms in place.


HopkinsLocal targeted positions

  • Environmental care
  • Food service worker
  • Lab technician
  • Linen worker
  • Materials management
  • Medical assistant/certified medical assistant
  • Patient service coordinator

Key to the success of this initiative is recognizing that not everybody is appropriate for every role, but that there are many potential roles a candidate could fill in healthcare. The health system is a “little city unto itself,” explained Kerr-Donovan. Although there might be barriers to returning citizens serving in a clinical role due to licensing regulations, there are many other career opportunities within the health system and “the most immediate and important thing for someone that’s a returning citizen is employment.” In order to facilitate this, Human Resources hired a background security screener who reviews the background check results. If a criminal background is present, they will assess the risk based on the individual’s history and the position for which the person is applying. For example, someone with a drug offense would be unable to work in a pharmacy setting or work with a physician’s prescription pad, but might be a good fit for another role within the institution. If there is no risk and the person has the experience and the skills, they are cleared to move forward in the process.

Provide tuition assistance for frontline employee accessible training

The critical success factor to the incumbent worker training is robust tuition support through benefits and salary release. Johns Hopkins’ tuition assistance program has two services: tuition advancement and tuition reimbursement.  Employees that earn below a specific wage threshold are automatically eligible for tuition advancement, meaning their tuition costs are paid before they start classes, as opposed to reimbursement where the employee must pay for the tuition costs and receive a reimbursement. If an individual is interested in a high-need or critical skill shortage position, they are eligible for salary release support through Project REACH. Salary release allows them to maintain their full-time status, benefits, and wages while attending sixteen hours of training each week, and working at least twenty-four hours a week in their department. Employees who have been at the institution for one year and are in good standing are eligible, and in return, they must commit to a service payback arrangement in the position for which they received their training support. This ensures a return on the training investment for Hopkins and incentivizes the employee to complete the training.  Employees must still apply for the position they are being trained into, and a successful application is a requirement to be in compliance with the salary release and tuition support.  However, if an employee is struggling, they can work with their job coach to reassess or troubleshoot the barriers they are experiencing in their training program. On average, sixty individuals participate in this program through Project REACH each year, and thousands of Hopkins employees receive tuition reimbursement or advancement each year.

One challenge that on-the-clock training programs create is the loss of productivity in departments where employees have been granted time release. This can create a dynamic in which—if the employee is training for a position outside of that particular department—managers may not necessarily have a clear incentive to provide release time, as it would cost them to fill this position during the training period. To address this, Project REACH pays for the sixteen hours/week of wages employees receive during the training, and, depending on the position, may be able to help the departments backfill the position through the community adult programs, like the internship program, which itself creates a pipeline for community members. The internship period serves as an on-the-job training opportunity, which enables an unemployed community member to build their résumé.  Ideally, if there is an opening in the department and the intern has demonstrated a good work ethic and is a good fit with the institution, they will be a competitive candidate in the hiring process.  Where the high school internship program is across all departments, the job training internship program focuses only on positions that will be open for new hires.


For more information

Project REACH

For additional tools and templates related to Project Reach, see More Resources


Yariela Kerr-Donovan,
Director, Strategic Workforce Planning & Development
Johns Hopkins University & Health System
Phone: 443-997-4585


Yariela Kerr-Donovan, interview by David Zuckerman and Katie Parker, January 7, 2016, Baltimore, MD, transcript.

CareerSTAT, “The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System,” Jobs for the Future and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, accessed April 2016,

“Fast Facts: Johns Hopkins Medicine,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, accessed April 2016,

“HireLocal,” Johns Hopkins University and Health System, accessed April 2016,

“Job Training—Office of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, accessed April, 2016,



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