The healthcare industry provides a massive opportunity for job creation in the state. North Carolina’s unemployment rate now hovers at 9 percent, half of whom are unable to secure a job within six months. These workers are more likely to drain their savings, experience difficulty meeting basic family needs, and face significant challenges in finding work. At the same time, however, the demand for a skilled healthcare workforce continues to increase. In fact, healthcare jobs in N.C. increased by 46 percent compared to 3 percent for the economy as a whole (1999-2009). This presents a clear opportunity for innovations in the development of the healthcare workforce and job creation.
Working with Communities
Nearly 150 participants from 40 counties gathered at four Community Forums to discuss how our state could take advantage of the opportunity to grow its healthcare workforce. With allied health jobs responsible for 44 percent of the growth in healthcare jobs, the Forums made clear the need for allied health professionals, regardless of the region. Allied Health is often defined as a healthcare professional with the exceptions of physician, nurse, chiropractor, dentist, optometrist, pharmacist and podiatrist. Examples include: dental hygienist, dietitian, medical technologist, occupational therapist and physical therapist.
Forum participants focused on how to grow allied health career paths to meet their region‚Äôs needs. In doing so, they uncovered seven key barriers and over 80 state and local strategies to address them. These strategies were shared with key networks and decision makers, and as a result, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and IEI will partner to communicate relevant strategies, including awareness of allied health careers, to local education agencies statewide.
Barriers to growing healthcare jobs
1. Lack of knowledge about healthcare career opportunities. 2. Lack of preparation of students entering in to college and the workforce. 3. Access to quality faculty, as clinical settings can offer more competitive salaries. 4. Lack of available clinical placement sites. 5. Lack of programs or the supports that incent opportunities for career advancement. 6. Lack of funding affects multiple points along the pipeline. 7. Poor health and wellness of healthcare workers to meet the demands of their work.
Watch Eric Evans describe his Community Forum experience. A conundrum emerging from the Community Forums ‚Äì the high demand for skilled allied health professionals, and a troubling low supply of potential workforce depicted in the high numbers of long-term unemployed. Developing the skills needed to fill allied health jobs is a challenge that is more pronounced for the long-term unemployed, many of whom are in their mid-40s and have been out of the classroom for twenty or more years. Few strategies have been implemented that focus on supporting their transition into allied health careers.
These North Carolinians may not know how to connect to existing allied health career opportunities. They might not know the process for enrolling in a training program, the time commitment, rigor, and/or associated costs. Moreover, the process of choosing a career and enrolling in a training program can be lengthy, and unemployment insurance benefits often run out before the training program can be completed. Long-term unemployed individuals have different concerns and needs than traditional students. Navigating employment resources, handling the fear of going back to school, and arranging childcare and transportation can be major barriers to making that transition.
Challenges continue even for those who enter the education pipeline. Allied health program graduates may not have the skills and attributes that are needed for the healthcare jobs available in their communities. Once hired, healthcare employers often bear the responsibility of providing such training for career advancement and could benefit from partner resources. Additionally, employers need to be able to communicate their current and emerging allied health job vacancies with local educational institutions. On a more systemic level, standardized employer hiring practices and a real-time and projected job vacancy database are needed to produce a successful transition pipeline.
Listen to Crissy Garner share how this education pipeline changed her life for the better.
Working with State Stakeholders
To address this unmet need, IEI engaged Alice Schenall of Area L Area Health Education Center (AHEC) as its first Practitioner-In-Residence. Alice was charged with creating a local demonstration project to transition the long-term unemployed into allied health careers. More than 40 N.C. stakeholders representing healthcare employers, education institutions, transportation, labor, commerce, social services, funders and the long-term unemployed living in rural communities came together to create a demonstration model project. This model addresses four main challenges: career guidance, program structure, individual supports and employer collaboration.
The demonstration model calls for a collaborative partnership at the local level to implement strategies that address the four key challenges to increase the utilization and effectiveness of an allied health pipeline. As a healthcare employer driven initiative, the local partnership will assess, link and mobilize existing programs and services; implement multilevel approaches; and utilize recommended strategies to transition the long-term unemployed in rural communities into allied health jobs.
The demonstration model outlines program infrastructure, including key staff, partnership representation and healthcare employer engagement. It also calls for more supportive services for the long-term unemployed worker, including career assessment tools, educational readiness and participation in four phases of a comprehensive training and competency program for direct care workers (PHCAST). The first and only mandatory phase (Phase I) helps a learner decide if direct care is right for them. Job placement and career advancement are also addressed in the demonstration model.
IEI is currently working with several state agencies to coordinate resources and seek private foundation support to implement the demonstration model. Successes and lessons learned from the demonstration model will be shared statewide. Learn more here.
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