The Next Health Care Workforce in California

Michael Bernick
Former California Employment Development Department Director, whose newest book is The Autism Job Club (with R. Holden).






This
past week, the California Workforce Investment Board along with the state
Office of Statewide Health
Planning and Development formed the state Health Workforce Development Council
(HWDC) to map the future of health care employment in the state.

Over
the past decade, health care has been the one sector in California that job
training professionals could always count on to continue to generate jobs. Even
in the past 36 months of this Recession, while other job sectors in California
were shedding jobs at a rapid rate,  health care continued to hold its own each month, and
sometimes gain jobs. This job growth is shown in the chart below, compiled from
payroll job data provided by Mr. Spencer Wong of the Employment Development
Department.

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But
even health care employment in California 
has felt the Recession. Since reaching a high water mark of 1,448,400
jobs in March 2010, health care employment  has slipped to 1,437,500 jobs in the latest August 2010
report-not a big loss compared to losses by other sectors, but one that is
contrary to the direction of health care employment for so long in California. For
example, for years the job of Registered Nurse (RN) was held out in the workforce
system as the one job always in demand, everywhere in California. While
experienced RNs today continue to find a strong job market in California, those
just graduating or with few years of practice are reporting few job offers.

The
recently formed HWDC will address the current market for health care workers
and market for the next year or two, during which the California economy is
likely to struggle. To a greater extent, as noted by Ms. Barbara Halsey,
California WIB director, the HWDC will focus on the employment future in
California related to the federal Health Care Act enacted by Congress earlier
this year ("The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010"). As this
Act expands coverage to millions of Californians not currently with health care
insurance, it will expand employment in certain health occupations. Understanding
which occupations will be impacted and to what degree is a main task of the
HWDC.

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No
sector has gotten as much attention in workforce policy under the past two California
Governors than health care. Using state Workforce Investment Act funds,
Governor Davis launched major initiatives to train certified nurse assistants
in the long term care industry, to develop career ladders in long term care, to
train allied health staff positions, and to train additional RNs. Governor Schwarzenegger
continued and expanded these programs, particularly through his $20 million
Governor’s Career Technical Education Pathways and Workforce Development
Program and the $90 million Nurse Education Initiative.

In
concert with the HWDC, the next Governor will want to build on what we’ve
learned from these health care workforce Initiatives, as well as what we can
project on jobs generated by the federal health care restructuring.

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