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Sentara Healthcare: Innovation at Work

A story of owning change

Sentara Healthcare’s New Collar Program develops talent, drives change


boot camp


more productive than average entry-level employee


retention after one year

medical professional performing a sterile procedure


Sentara Healthcare is a nonprofit integrated health system with 12 hospitals, over 1,000 physicians and more than 500,000 health plan members. They’re embarking on a big data transformation to drive change in their organization and the industry with destinations in sight like value-based care, population health, quality reporting and business intelligence.

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The proposition: Digital transformation up ahead

A new big data platform presents big opportunity. But first, they face big challenges like modernizing infrastructure from a traditional data warehouse model to the cloud and creating a blueprint for a new data lake. There is a lot to gain as well, such as the ability to make changes and move data quickly and thus a faster time to market for key business decisions.

Architecting and building out the platform was underway. The next step was bringing in some big data brainpower to maintain, optimize and take the new technology to the next level.

Our proposal: Upskilling big data talent

We worked side by side with Sentara to customize a learning program that aligned to their big data technology stack (Hadoop) and desired learning outcomes to develop the talent they needed. With the end goal in mind, we helped Sentara build out a successful profile of a potential recruit, from education to level of experience, to intrinsic characteristics that would give the best shot at success within their company—motivated, inquisitive and hardworking.

After rigorous recruiting locally and nationally, nine strong candidates from diverse backgrounds joined the six-week boot camp for Sentara’s New Collar Program. Their syllabus consisted of technical instruction, hands-on practice, teamwork and gaining a fundamental understanding of the tools, technologies and culture at Sentara. TEKsystems and Sentara’s No. 1 task: observe and evaluate each participant’s technical and behavioral performance in accordance with best success for long-term employment at Sentara.

Powerful partnership: Leadership that leans in

As boot camp participants focused on learning, Sentara leaders leaned in with TEKsystems instructors and program managers on the core task of observing and evaluating each participant’s technical and behavioral performance in accordance to best success for long-term employment at Sentara. That objective began when Sentara joined TEKsystems in co-interviewing candidates for the program, through job shadows and workplace tours.

Leadership was engaged—and time and participation provided invaluable insight. Over six weeks, Sentara got to know these candidates: how they operate, how they think, how they work with others and within their culture. They had the opportunity to rotate participants in and out of different teams to get a feel of where they fit and would have the best opportunity to be successful within the organization and provide value quickly.

They’re contributing well above their one year of experience—they’re performing at the level of someone with three years’ experience.

Sam Owens, Director of Enterprise Data Services, Sentara Healthcare

healthcare professional reviewing data on a medical system

Real-world Results

Mission complete. All five of Sentara’s open big data positions were filled with the best technical and cultural fit candidates to join its big data transformation effort. One year posttraining, they’ve held 80% retention in this high-demand skill set.

Mentor/mentee relationships helped solidify the experience and ensure that New Collar developers had the support they needed to be active contributors toward projects in flight and perform at their optimum best. And they are; in fact, they’re flourishing. The New Collar employees are continuing the buildout of the data platform, working on GIS work around semantics and databases, and making an impact on major company initiatives like physician management. With less than one years’ experience, New Collar employees are performing at the level of an employee with three years’ experience.

By thinking outside of the box and into the future with innovative workforce development solutions like the New Collar Program, Sentara is positioned to fuel the energy that creative, engaged employees bring into better healthcare service and solutions for its patients.

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