Lenoir County Healthcare Career Advancement Study Moving Along

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CED Program Interns & Students

Ben Houck is a graduate of the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning and a CCP Intern working in Lenoir County.

I confess this is really my third attempt at this, but the lesson remains the same: occupations are complex. A Medical Technologist is not a Medical Technician, I now understand. And moving up in the health care field looks nothing like career advancement in another industry I recently studied as a Masters student.

Take Alex, for example, who helps his brother with his job in ceramic tiling during breaks in high school. Soon afterward he is hired by the company as a Tiling Helper. Alex gets pretty good at what he does, and is later given a Helper himself to train and manage. Alex starts with tiling kitchen backsplashes and showers and progresses to master bathrooms and commercial showers. His Supervisor, seeing Alex’s hard work, promotes him to Foreman, allowing him to run his own jobs and manage another crew. Finally, Alex passes  a national certification exam in Tiling, including written and practical tests, for which he took off two days of work to prepare. From Helper to Foreman. Seems easy enough.

However, moving up from entry-level to supervisory positions in health care shares little in common with the scenario above. While educational attainment is a significant ingredient to advancement in health care careers, workers who wish to move up in construction trades are often discouraged from attending school. The rungs in the health care career ladder are sodden with certifications, licensures, registrations and continuing education requirements. Most seem mandated by law, while others seem to be established norms based on the current state of the profession such as its given array of specialties.

All this is to share two sides of the same coin. In my last post, I shared how I learned that context is important in workforce development research. Lenoir County is the context which circumscribes our study. Now, I am sensing the importance of precedents, as career advancement in our industry of focus will occur how it has traditionally occurred. Nevertheless, it is our goal to identify how employers, given the context of Lenoir County, can collaborate, given the precedents of health care career advancement, to resolve their common workforce challenges.

Ashley Yingling, a colleague on this project and Intern with RHA Howell, adds her perspective below.

Over the past couple of weeks, Ben and I have been investigating the health care career opportunities in Lenoir County. We have interviewed a number of employers and examined labor force data. We have found an abundance of opportunities at a variety of employers. Employment projections estimate growth in nearly all health care occupations.

The President of Lenoir Memorial Hospital, Gary Black, mentioned the big changes that will be coming to the health care system once the Health Care Reform Bill is fully enacted in January, 2014. He expects that increased demand for health care will create workforce shortages, and job opportunities, in nearly all health fields.

Many of the employers have spoken about ongoing difficulty recruiting licensed practitioners in a number of fields, including physical therapists and physician’s assistants. Lower-paying health care positions, such as nursing assistants and direct support professionals, often see high turnover at the employers we’ve interviewed. Looking towards 2014, solving the challenges of recruitment and retention becomes even more important.

We hope that by investigating the common staffing problems and mapping career opportunities we can spark a discussion among health care employers and workforce development leaders. We have found that many of the employers have similar career pathways available, as well as similar staffing issues. Many of these issues could potentially be addressed through a targeted career ladder – providing incentive for entry-level workers to get additional training and remain in the health care field.

In coming weeks, we will be extending an invitation to many health care leaders in Lenoir County to a discussion of these very issues. We will both be presenting our findings and facilitating a discussion of these issues. Details regarding the meeting are forthcoming, but we hope many will attend for a productive conversation.

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