With more than 120,000 jobs and a payroll over $10 billion, healthcare accounts for 10% of the Southwest Washington-Portland metro area’s private-sector employment and 10% of payroll.

The healthcare sector contributed approximately $11.1 billion to the metro area’s Gross Domestic Product in 2021; 10% of all output. Healthcare is projected to grow by 17% over the next decade and will account for roughly one-in-six new jobs throughout the region between 2021 and 2031.

Healthcare is one of four key industries supported by the public workforce system and the local workforce development board, Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), which recently released an updated Healthcare Labor Market Report.

Some highlights from the report:

Worker Demographics

AGE – Twenty-two percent of the region’s healthcare workforce is at, or nearing, retirement age. Due in part to the aging workforce, area employers have identified leadership training as a key industry need. Twenty-six percent of registered nurses, one of the most in-demand occupations across all sectors, are near retirement age. Other occupations with older-than-average workforces include home health and personal care aides (32%), family practice practitioners (29%), and medical records technicians (26%).

GENDER – The healthcare workforce is overwhelmingly female: women outnumber men by more than three-to-one.

RACE – People who identify as white make up the vast majority of the healthcare workforce (74%), about the same as the workforce as a whole. Among the downsides of this is the lack of culturally-competent care that is contributing to negative health outcomes for Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx and other people of color.

To increase diversity among its workforce, the healthcare industry must build trust and develop relationships with historically underrepresented communities. Some ways to do this include:

  • Attending culturally diverse events and learning firsthand about their mission, values and impact within their community
  • Engaging with programs and initiatives that serve historically excluded communities through both personnel (staffing, volunteering) and financial support
  • Seeking input from communities about how your organization could best support the communities and have direct positive impact on quality jobs
  • Inviting diverse communities to the conversation to ensure inclusivity at all levels of business development and engagement

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several healthcare organizations, including PeaceHealth, Legacy and the Free Clinic held COVID testing clinics through partnerships with local diverse communities. They have continued vaccine clinics and testing at community events, with a focus on communities that are underserved and have lower incomes. These are good first steps and hopefully the relationships will continue to evolve and include employment for members of these communities.

Recognizing the historic underrepresentation of people of color, the healthcare industry committed to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion as primary goals in the region’s 2022-2024 Healthcare Workforce Plan.

The plan’s strategies include:

  • Create trusted relationships that promote success for diverse workers in healthcare
  • Develop and allocate resources to support and sustain historically excluded communities into healthcare occupations
  • Incorporate best practices that elevate, educate, integrate and put into action, diversity, equity and inclusion

If you are interested in joining this collaborative of healthcare providers seeking to recruit, train and retain a diverse workforce, please contact me. It is imperative that the healthcare sector is prepared to welcome, train, advance and support a more diverse workforce.

Wages

Nearly 60% of healthcare jobs pay $22 or more an hour. In Washington in 2020, nearly half of healthcare jobs paid $28 per hour or more.

However, wage disparities by gender and race are a cause for concern. Although the industry has a greater number of workers identifying as female, 53% of workers earning a median wage of $50 per hour or more identify as male. The disparity is even greater in the highest paying occupations. Sixty-six percent of workers in the nine healthcare occupations with median wages above $100 per hour identify as male.

The industry’s wage disparities are even more alarming and pronounced for BIPOC women and immigrants who largely hold entry-level jobs and positions with little room for advancement.

COVID Aftermath

Increased Turnover – More than any other sector, healthcare was acutely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare providers found their jobs increasingly stressful and dangerous. This led to an increase in worker turnover as older workers opted for early retirement and younger workers left the industry.

Shrinking Talent Pool – At the same time, many of the local institutions that train the healthcare labor force closed. The lack of clinical training facilities has halted the education and training of many students.

The high rates of turnover combined with a shrinking pipeline of new workers entering the field has exacerbated an existing healthcare workers shortage. For the past two years, registered nurse has been the most in-demand occupation across all sectors in the region. Key frontline positions, including medical assistants and certified nursing assistants continue to be difficult to fill. The labor shortage is likely depressing job growth. To meet the region’s healthcare workforce needs, companies must attract candidates from historically underrepresented communities and younger workers.

Telehealth – The COVID-19 pandemic led to a sharp increase in the use of tele-health services; a paradigm shift in patient care delivery. Ideally this shift will improve access to health services for underserved and rural communities.

Resources for Business

As your company seeks to fill open positions, look to your current employees. With a little training, could some of them be promoted into leadership and supervisory roles? Promoting and advancing current employees opens lower-level positions that can then be filled by new employees. WSW has grant funds available to invest in companies to train existing employees, especially women and individuals from underrepresented populations.

I encourage healthcare businesses that are hiring to contact me to learn about how the On the Job Training Wage Reimbursement program can supplement your direct costs for onboarding and mentoring new staff. The program is a win-win for your company as well as for your new employee as they may qualify for support services such as transportation subsidies.

To help companies meet the demand for new workers, WSW and its partners are:

  • Actively participating in apprenticeships for Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Behavioral Health Specialists and Peer Support Specialists
  • Having conversations with education providers about expanding capacity by providing more trainings in the evening and apprenticeship style programs to address shortages in rural areas
  • Hosting cohort trainings to support dental assistants and Certified Nursing Assistants

To ensure workforce development strategies adapt as the industry and its needs change, WSW and its regional partners meet quarterly with healthcare companies, educators, community-based organizations and labor unions to ensure all are engaged with recruiting, training and retaining our healthcare workforce. If you would like to be involved and learn about grant funds and other resources, please contact me.

Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), a nonprofit organization, is the Local Workforce Development Board (LWDB) designated by federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) legislation to oversee the public workforce system in Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Clark counties.

Sean Moore is Sr. Project Manager-Healthcare and Technology at Workforce Southwest Washington. Reach him at smoore@workforcesw.org 360.762.8569.

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