The current education model designed to fill vacancies — especially within the healthcare industry — is flawed and no longer meets workforce needs. The choice no longer has to be to go to college for four or five years, take on debt and get a degree that may or may not match well with promising career pathways. We must shift our mentality about what is necessary to build a stronger workforce.

I’m not saying college degrees aren’t relevant or important; there is just a smarter way of approaching it. Many parents and students already realize that graduating high school seniors no longer need to go straight to a university. There is a way to address the problem that combines the two so that these outcomes can be achieved together.

Skills-based training combined with a college degree is a better approach because it plans for the future while addressing the dire staffing shortages facing healthcare today.

Calling the shortage dire is not an overstatement. According to industry data, “By 2026, healthcare will experience a shortage of up to 3.2 million workers.”

Furthermore, a joint survey of frontline healthcare workers reports that 30 percent are considering leaving their jobs. Frontline workers — phlebotomists, radiologists and hospital administrative staff — directly interact with patients. Losing them is critical.

However, herein lies the opportunity. A tight labor market means there is no shortage of jobs, and it is pushing us to be creative in filling them. Our model, one that can be replicated everywhere, is to train workers for immediate employment and set them up for a long career in healthcare, one where they see upward advancement. This just might help us avoid having similar staffing crises in the future.

Making this happen requires a new way of thinking about skills-based training, which takes commitment. It means not simply training and moving on to the next student. Instead, our model is to work with major healthcare employers to pipeline students studying for medical certifications into jobs while still in training. It’s been so successful that some employers are paying for the training.

Students in these programs pass their certification exams well over the industry average; in our programs, 85 percent pass their exams, and many start their jobs with little — in some cases, zero — cost. Moreover, because our model does not take federal education funds, our students cannot, do not, take federal student loans — meaning nearly all of them start their careers with no education debt.

The other requirement for making this work is to stop thinking that the skills-based training pathway to a job is at odds with the college-education path to a job. That’s because training with our employer network is college. Our accredited college partners give students articulated college credits to be applied in the future (even simultaneously) to four-year college degrees for the specific skills-based technical training they are taking now.

While these students are training on the job, they are also banking what they’ve learned, applying college credit toward academic credentials that can lead to promotions and better jobs. The long-term benefit extends beyond the individual workers. When workers see a pathway to advancement, they tend to stay in those fields, which could mean fewer of them will leave the profession entirely.

Essentially, by giving college credit for training, it is possible to grow a workforce incentivized with upward mobility and the opportunity to better themselves academically and professionally.

This is not an entirely new concept, but it’s a concept whose time is due, driven in part by the urgency of creating a sustainable pathway for workers to enter healthcare and stay there. A coordinated train-and-hire model combined with articulated credits is a successful one that prepares students for their first job and for their fifth one — at the same time. It’s not one-and-done. It’s one-and-keep-going, and we need more of it.