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BLOOMINGTON — A Bloomington-based medical device company is not only hiring Hoosiers, but providing opportunities for people to better their lives and end the cycle of poverty.
Cook Medical is a privately owned medical device manufacturer employing more than 12,000 worldwide. Cook manufactures, designs, and distributes medical devices that physicians use in minimally invasive medicine and products are found in many hospital rooms and doctor's offices today.
Cook Medical is working to change lives and bridge the employment gap in manufacturing by providing a program called My Cook Pathway.
"We started My Cook Pathway several years ago. We realized that there was an obstacle to people coming to work at Cook," said Cook Medical President, Pete Yonkman. "Our jobs require a high school diploma and a lot of people just didn't have that."
The My Cook Pathway program was launched about two years ago, and since its start, the company has helped more than 200 people earn their high school diplomas while working in their facility at the same time.
"We created a program where people could come work in the morning for us, and then we would pay them to go to school in the afternoon so they can get their high school equivalency and then come work for us full time," Yonkman said. "If you look at our region where people come here to work for Cook, there are 25,000 people of working age who don't yet have their high school diploma and what we found with that group of people, and we talked to them, is that they really get stuck in jobs that just don't have a pathway to a career. What we want to do with our program is enable people to get into that career pathway, not just a job, but a job that can help them improve their lives and their families lives."
The program is life changing for people like Nicole Natalie, of Elletsville.
As a single mother, she struggled to make ends meet and get her degree due to the demands of raising her family. Things changed when a neighbor told her about My Cook Pathway.
"I had tried several times to get my diploma through Broadview, you know, kept flunking out, couldn't follow through with it," Natalie said. "Then I heard about this, where you can get paid while you did it. Like, you can't pass up that kind of an opportunity."
The single mother of two girls worked for Cook and took classes.
"I jumped on it and four months later, had my diploma and here I am," Natalie said, who now works as an inspector full-time for Cook. "I make sure that the products don't have any problems, they are not going to cause the patient any damage internally. I make sure that they are packaged properly, nothing's gone wrong from production to shipping them out."
Yonkman says the program is a game changer for people like Natalie. He says it is free for the company to provide and when you have someone who has been out of school for 20 years and that person decides to go back, it makes a dramatic change in their lives and the culture of the company.
He says many of their participants go back to school not only to better their own lives but to set an example for their children.
"It's a win for everybody involved," Yonkman said. "As a company, we get great employees who are very loyal. The people who do it, it improves their life and their family's lives and from a community standpoint, even if they go on to not work at Cook, now as a community we've got someone who has an education who can take that next step."
My Cook Pathway allows participants to not only earn their high school diploma, but it also allows people to continue on with their education and get up to a Master's Degree free of charge.
"We're seeing people go back to work in their 60s which is fantastic because they are learning new skills and they are helping bring new ideas back to us at Cook," Yonkman said.
The initiative so far has been a huge success and popular. Cook puts about 150 people through the program each year.
For employees like Natalie, this opportunity changed not only her own life but the lives of her children.
"It's a life saver," Natalie said. "Honestly. If it wasn't for My Cook Pathway, I don't know where I would be. I know I wouldn't have my diploma, I know I wouldn't have this job. I wouldn't have my home. It saved my life. Honestly. And it made it to where I can better take care of my children. It's an accomplishment. Besides my girls, it's the greatest thing I've ever done for myself."
If you want to learn more about My Cook Pathway or other career opportunities at Cook Medical, you can visit.