By Bill Moore
By now, it should be no surprise to anyone that employers are having a difficult time finding employees. The latest unemployment numbers tell us that in February the statewide rate was 2.3 percent. In Washington County, the rate stood at 2.5 percent. The Vermont Futures Project tells us that we need to replace 10,000 jobs annually just to stay even with where we are.
The major challenge for employers today is to find qualified workers. This is perhaps no more obvious than in the health care industry. As our population (third oldest in the nation) continues to age, available, affordable health care is vital. Hidden in that demand is making sure that there are adequate numbers of employees to serve the population.
It’s not just health care for we Baby Boomers who are now entering the geriatric phase of life, but it is hitting every age and anyone presenting a medical complaint. We are now all feeling the strain resulting from the shortage of workers in health care.
According to the March Vermont Department of Labor Short Term Employment Projections 2018–2020, there will be 1,125 jobs needed to be filled in four specific areas of health care. Ambulatory Health Care will grow by 605 positions, Hospitals will see 340 new jobs, Nursing and Residential Care Facilities will see an increase of 55 jobs and the need for Medical Secretaries will increase by 125.
Allen Yearick, vice president for Aging Services at CVMC and Administrator for Woodridge Rehabilitation & Nursing, is also a member of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Woodridge, a 153-bed skilled nursing facility, is holding a Job Fair on April 10 from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
“It is an important event for us to showcase a number of key job positions on our team here at Woodridge,” he said. “We are promoting a chance for folks to come in and meet with our staff. I know that the pride our employees feel about working here will be radiating and interested applicants will have the chance to talk first-hand with employees, particularly nurses and LNAs, in their respective jobs. ”
Mr. Yearick is very aware of the challenges of finding quality employees and Woodridge is meeting some of those challenges head-on.
“We are planning a couple of exciting new programs in nursing,” he said. “The first is a licensed nursing assistant (LNA) training program starting in late April where we are going to pay the up-front costs to enrollment. In exchange for a two-year commitment to Woodridge, the students will be paid while in the classroom and during their clinical training. Recently, Woodridge created an additional LNA level for those with greater than 1 year of experience that will increase their responsibilities or scope of practice along with a wage increase. Those attending the Job Fair can learn more about this.”
For those who are interested but missed the deadline for a current LNA class, they can sign on as “hospitality aids” while waiting for the next eight-week class to begin. A similar offering will be available for those wishing to move from LNA to licensed practical nurse (LPN) in a two-year pilot program starting this fall at Woodridge. Anyone interested in either of these programs can contact the Human Resource Department at CVMC.
Career tracks in the industry are obvious. Given the proper education and training, LNAs can become LPNs, LPNs can become registered nurses (RNs). RNs become nurse practitioners, physician assistants and doctors. Dental assistants become dentists. Think of the opportunities in physical therapy, inhalation therapy, radiology, pharmacy and more.
I spoke with Kevin Mullin, chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, about the workforce challenges facing the industry. He told me that “educational programs have to be added now. Studies have shown that employees in their particular fields tend to stay where they studied or took their training.”
Mr. Mullin told me that “there is a critical need for more nursing programs, more PA (physician assistant) programs. We need to create the supply here to meet our growing demand.”
In testimony before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, he told committee members, “Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.” He was very direct in his comments. “We need to focus on this issue. We should have begun to focus five years ago. We are facing a nursing crunch.”
The health care industry isn’t the only industry in need. Construction, manufacturing, retail, financial services, virtually all areas of our business profile are looking for good, qualified employees. As expected in a tight labor market, employers are offering higher wages and better benefits in order to attract and retain employees.
Several things that fall into the public policy arena must be addressed in order to attract more employees to the Green Mountain State. We are one of the most heavily taxed and regulated of all states. Housing affordability must be addressed. The lack of broadband availability is a deterrent to new businesses considering Vermont as a location. Improving access to vocational/technical education at the secondary level is critical. This alone will require untangling a complex network of funding and administration that has become a barrier to providing what students and employers need.
We need to create a pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs economic climate that will help improve the lives of all who live and work in Vermont.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.