Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

In the current Southeast Michigan health care workforce, 45.3 percent of workers are over the age of 45, with 20.7 percent exceeding the age of 55.  These occupations can expect mass retirement over the next ten years, leaving significant workforce shortages.  Combine this with the aging population and higher numbers of insured individuals due to national policy changes, and this country will experience a jump in demand for health care services.

There were 14,967 health-related completions in 2013, but the degrees and certificates awarded from bachelor and associate-level programs do not meet the demand displayed or match up with the 77,000 health-related online job postings that occurred from January 2013 through September 2014. Add the aging workforce to this supply and demand disconnect and we’ve put ourselves in one tough situation.

Of the 15 health care occupations with the highest numbers of online job postings in Southeast Michigan, only medical assistants have enough recent graduates to support demand. Other high demand occupations exceed new graduate supply by between four and nine times online job posting levels.

Inversely, the occupations with the lowest posting levels tend to have a relatively high supply of recent graduates. It is unknown if the low job posting levels are due to a constant supply of recent graduates or a decrease in need for these types of workers.

Options for filling the workforce gap and fixing the disconnect

There are several actions that can be taken to improve the workforce shortage and the degree/credentialing mismatch:

  • Streamline the jobs of current health care workers to make their positions more efficient, therefore needing less high-skilled workers and delegating the simpler required tasks (like records and paperwork) to entry-level, low-wage workers.  The American Society of Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) held a “Thought Leader Forum” in September 2012 to discuss the future of the health care workforce.  They identified (as many sources do) that there is an anticipated shortage of physicians.  Potential solutions were identified: “Thought leaders discussed the important role that allied health professions will likely play in the future, particularly as shortages of traditional physician caregivers intensifies………Many believe that skilled caregivers such as advanced practice nurses (APRNs), physician’s assistants (PAs), and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) will be more widely used in the future.”  While there may still be shortages of allied health workers, this is an example of the ways health care providers will need to think more creatively about supplementing short-supply occupations through other types of workers.
  • Create a better pipeline of health care workers.  One health care employer recently indicated that the development of a better pipeline of workers has helped their organization improve their recruitment levels.  The organization reached out to their county intermediate school district (ISD) and started a partnership with the health sciences program, effectively setting up a pipeline of high school students with some level of health care training.
  • Use technology as an employee multiplier.  The implementation of new technology in the health care field is tremendous and expected to continue to grow.  According to the ASSHRA Thought Leader Forum, the organization received similar messages:  “Thought leaders expect a greater use of technology in the future, including robotics, handheld devices that test employee skills, information technology, telehealth, and more.  Because health care organizations spend significant funds on talent, the thought leaders predict that declining reimbursements combined with rising labor costs will boost the desire for organizations to move toward more automation and other use of technology.  This may reduce the number of staff in entry level, lower-skilled jobs; at the same time, there will be new opportunities opened for a smaller number of positions, such as robot technicians.”
  • Make efforts to retain older workers.  By using incentives, a number of health employers are retaining workers who might have planned to retire already.  Many of these individuals have specialized skills in their field or are in management or difficult-to-fill positions.  While this strategy is effective today, its long-term effects may lead to a lack of workers who have been allowed the opportunity to develop these skills.
  • Recruit workers from outside the region to fill these positions.  While this might be the ideal scenario, the other areas of the country are likely experiencing shortages or expected shortages as well.

Much like the auto industry has needed to shift the way they do business, the health care industry will also need to think and act creatively to provide services to an aging population with limited talent resources.

This blog was prepared with research and content from Tricia Walding, project manager for research & policy, Health Care Specialist, Workforce Intelligence Network.

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