Industry Employment Outlook – Healthcare


Healthcare Has a Vigorous Future  |  Continuing Growth, Great Opportunities

Published in the September/October 2012 issue of print Search & Employ®

The healthcare industry has been a shining light of employment in the darkness of the recession, and the light is getting brighter. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a part of the United States Department of Commerce, expects the number of healthcare jobs to grow rapidly through 2020. In fact, the BLS expects the Health Care and Social Assistance sector of the economy to generate more jobs than any other sector during the period from 2010 to 2020; see Table 1 in “Industry Employment and Output Projections to 2020” at http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/art4full.pdf.

According to the BLS, the Health Care and Social Assistance sector will generate 5.6 million new wage and salary jobs, largely in response to the rapid growth in the elderly population. In second place is the Professional and Business Services sector (3.8 million jobs). In third place is the Construction sector (1.8 million jobs).

According to Table 3 of the BLS publication, “Occupational Employment Projections to 2020,” http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/art5full.pdf, employment of registered nurses (RN’s) will grow by 711,900 jobs during the 2010-2020 period, while the number of home health aides is projected to grow by 706,300 jobs. Employment in offices of physicians, home healthcare, services for the elderly and persons with disabilities, and nursing care facilities is expected to grow by 2 million.

The BLS classifies occupations according to “major occupational groups”; a group known as Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations is projected to add 2 million jobs from 2010 to 2020, second only to Office and Administrative Support Occupations. This follows an increase of 601,700 jobs from 2006 to 2010, the largest gain among all groups. The projected growth rate for Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations is 25.9 percent, the third highest among all groups.

Most workers in this group are health diagnosing and treating practitioners, such as RN’s, physicians and surgeons, and physical therapists, whose employment is projected to grow by 1.3 million; and health technologists and technicians, such as pharmacy technicians, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, and radiologic technologists and technicians, whose employment is projected to grow by 720,300.

Driving the rapid growth projected for this group is an increase in spending on healthcare services, particularly by an aging population. Older people spend more on healthcare than those who are younger. So, as the share of the population aged 65 and older grows, healthcare spending will also rise. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law in March 2010, could also have a large impact on the growth rate, but its full effects remain unknown.

On a percentage basis, the fastest growing major occupational group will be Healthcare Support Occupations, at 34.5 percent. Having gained 466,500 new jobs from 2006 to 2010, the group will add 1.4 million more from 2010 to 2020. About half, or 706,300, of these new jobs will be in a single occupation, Home Health Aides, which is projected to grow by 69.4 percent.

The two groups – Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations, and Healthcare Support Occupations – accounted for more than 60 percent of jobs in the healthcare industry in 2010. Healthcare Support Occupations are more highly concentrated in ambulatory health care services, while Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations are more highly concentrated in hospitals. The BLS expects ambulatory health care services to grow faster than hospitals, contributing to the projected faster growth for Healthcare Support Occupations.

The importance of education

The good news is that the healthcare industry will generate a lot of jobs – most of them high-paying. The bad news is that most unemployed Americans will not have the expensive schooling necessary to get them, according to a new report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce.

Eighty-two percent of the expected influx of jobs will require post-secondary education and training. Even nursing candidates, whose opportunities will increase 26 percent, will need advanced degrees. This increase will continue a trend. In 2008, 80 percent of entry-level RN’s had at least an associate’s degree, up from 37 percent in 1980.

Only 20 percent of workers in healthcare professional and technical occupations earn less than $38,000 a year, and almost 50 percent earn more than $60,000. More than 70 percent of healthcare support workers make less than $30,000 per year, but that percentage is still better than most available alternatives for workers of that skill and education level, according to the report.

Professional occupations, such as physicians and surgeons, dentists, RN’s, social workers, and physical therapists, usually require at least a bachelor’s degree in a specialized field or higher education in a specific health field, although RN’s may also enter through associate degree or diploma programs.

Health technologists and technicians work in many fast-growing occupations, such as medical records and health information technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, radiologic technologists and technicians, and dental hygienists. These workers may operate medical equipment and assist health diagnosing and treating practitioners. The workers are typically graduates of one-year or two-year postsecondary training programs.

Service occupations attract many workers with little or no specialized education or training. They include nursing aides, home health aides, building cleaning workers, dental assistants, medical assistants, and personal and home care aides.

Many healthcare jobs that are regulated by state licensure require healthcare professionals to complete continuing education at regular intervals to maintain valid licensure.

Growth areas

Rapid growth is expected for workers in occupations concentrated outside the inpatient hospital sector, such as pharmacy technicians and personal and home care aides. Demand for dental care will rise due to greater retention of natural teeth by middle-aged and older persons, greater awareness of the importance of dental care, and an increased ability to pay for services. Dentists will use support personnel such as dental hygienists and assistants to help meet their increased workloads.

Another occupation that is expected to have many openings is nursing. The median age of RN’s is increasing, and not enough younger workers are replacing them. As a result, employers in some parts of the country are reporting difficulties in attracting and retaining nurses.

Healthcare workers at all levels of education and training will continue to be in demand. In many cases, it will be easier for job seekers with health-specific training to obtain jobs and advance in their careers. Specialized clinical training is a requirement for many jobs in healthcare and is an asset even for many administrative jobs that do not specifically require it.

Pay day

Average earnings of nonsupervisory workers in most healthcare facilities are higher than the average for all private industry. Hospital workers earn considerably more than the average. Workers in nursing and residential care facilities earn less, as do people who provide home care.

Average earnings are higher in hospitals because a larger percentage of jobs require higher levels of education and training. Nursing and residential facilities, as well as home care services, employ large numbers of part-time service workers.

As in most industries, professionals and managers working in healthcare typically earn more than other workers in the industry. Wages in individual healthcare occupations vary as widely as the duties, level of education and training, and amount of responsibility required by the occupations.

Some establishments offer tuition reimbursement, paid training, child day care services, and flexible work hours. Healthcare establishments that must be staffed around the clock to care for patients and handle emergencies often pay premiums for overtime and weekend work, holidays, late shifts, and time spent on call.

About the Author

This article was written by Jay Myers