Monday, November 12, 2012

Health-care training may be a good career investment

By Randy Woods

If there's any certainty about searching for a job in today's market, it's that long-range predictions will always be unreliable. But as we mark not only 2012's halfway point but also our nation's 236th birthday this week, it seems a fitting moment to look ahead to the possible effects that Thursday's landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act (aka "Obamacare") could have, good or bad, for job creation in the Puget Sound region.

Cacophonous political debate is still raging online about the efficacy of the law, so I'll refrain from making guesses about how many actual jobs may be added or lost by the time federal law takes effect in 2014; there are just too many unknown variables to consider. However, one forward-looking observation that seems like a safe bet is that job seekers who invest now in technical training for health-care jobs could reap significant career payoffs over the next few years -- regardless of what happens in the federal Legislature with Obamacare.

According to a report released in June by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, health-care providers across the United States will need 5.6 million more trained workers between 2010 and 2020 to handle the increased workload as the population ages. This demand, the study found, is expected to grow even if Obamacare is eventually defeated or watered down in future legislative action.

The average growth of health-care jobs, the study said, is predicted to be twice as high as the growth rate for all other jobs in every state except for Maine, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and West Virginia. In Washington state, health-care and social assistance positions, which currently represent 10 percent of state employment, will grow by 29 percent from 2010 to 2020, with nearly 112,000 new job openings. In comparison, all other jobs in the state are predicted to grow by 16 percent over the same period.

The Georgetown study was notable for examining the amount of education and training that will be needed for the estimated job influx. Nationally, more than 80 percent of the 5.6 million expected new health-care jobs identified in the report will require post-secondary education.

In Washington state, the largest segment of the projected new jobs (34 percent) will be in health-care support positions (massage therapists, nursing aides, occupational therapy assistants, etc.), most of which only require a high school or two-year associates degree. However, Washington is also ranked in the study as having the fourth-highest expected concentration of job openings that will require some kind of post-secondary training, such as nurses (31 percent growth), allied health workers* (26 percent) and physicians (10 percent).

Also, should Obamacare be fully deployed in its current form by 2014, Gov. Gregoire said that, under the Washington State Health Care Authority, about 800,000 state residents who currently go without adequate health-care coverage will be able to afford the new individual mandates by taking part in the Health Benefit Exchange program. Though the details are still a bit fuzzy, new health-care administrative jobs are expected to become available statewide as this bureaucracy is set up to process the surge in the number of new people who will be receiving health insurance.

We are only at the tip of the iceberg with the Obamacare deployment. The nation, as well as our state, must answer countless new questions about how the plan for near-universal coverage will be rolled out over the next two years. But whether or not the law will survive its epic challenges, Obamacare has crystallized the issue of health-care reform and made it one of the most important engines of economic change for the state's workforce.

So for many local job seekers who are looking for careers that will give them a measure of long-term stability, training programs in high-demand fields -- such as nursing, occupational or physical therapy, health-practitioner technology, laboratory medicine, diagnostic technology and medical records administration -- will likely put them in the best position to take advantage of the rising tide of new health-care jobs that will follow.

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
* Medical Transcription, Medical Coding and Billing, Pharmacy Tech and Medical Administrative Assistant all fall under the allied heath field.

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