Charlotte Works is pleased to introduce a new quarterly feature, Workforce By The Numbers, which will spotlight workforce research from around the region. Data and analysis will be provided through our new partnership with the Charlotte Chamber.
The term skills gap has sprung up so often it has reached buzz-word status, similar to big data or green jobs. It means different things in different contexts, and to some means nothing at all. For the purposes of this research, we focus on the gaps found in middle-skills employment, specifically found in healthcare. Middle-skills employment can be defined as those jobs requiring some college, a two-year degree or certification.
Community colleges are in the thick of combating these local training gaps, largely because they are best equipped to address them. These institutions are nimble enough to meet the short-term demands of the healthcare industry by addressing employers’ most pressing skill needs and lead to stable careers with strong earning potential for graduates. They serve a key role in the efforts of improving the regions in which they serve.
Healthcare programs, especially those focused in allied health [defined as “a group of medically prescribed health-care services, such as occupational therapy, speech pathology, and physical therapy, provided by licensed professionals,” by The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary] are a major focus for community colleges, and for good reason. No sector over the last decade has been as consistent in year-over-year employment growth, and no sector has as many occupations with a two-year training focus.
Over the last decade, healthcare in the region has grown by 31 percent (or 17,000 jobs) for a total of 71,300. During that period, ambulatory healthcare services added the fifth-most jobs of any sector in the economy, growing by 51 percent (or 13,000 jobs). Private hospitals and nursing-residential care facilities have also been among the regions’ biggest gainers.
There are 35,700 middle-skills healthcare jobs in our region, paying an average wage of $17.12 an hour, slightly higher than the national average for these same occupations. The true story is in the growth; from 2003 through 2014, these occupations grew at 30 percent, while the growth across the country in these same occupations was 19 percent.
The fastest-growing mid-skill healthcare occupations were
- diagnostic medical stenographers (57 percent),
- dental hygienists (49 percent),
- medical and clinical laboratory technicians (48 percent) and
- physical therapist assistants (47 percent).
These four occupations pay an average of $31.58 an hour; 40 percent of the employed are 45 years or older.
When examining the number of jobs added, nursing assistants led all community college-related jobs with more than 1,800 from 2013 to 2014, for a total 10,000-plus employed in the region in 2014. They are followed by pharmacy technicians and medical assistants.
These three largest mid-skill healthcare occupations responsible for the most employment growth require post-secondary education with no degree and typically require no prior work experience. These three occupations account for nearly 15,000 of the 35,700 mid-skill healthcare occupations.
Community colleges play a key role in providing the skills to meet the needs of these high-growth occupations. In our region, there are 14 institutions offering more than 80 programs related to mid-skill health occupations, including both two year-degrees and certification programs. In 2013, they awarded 1,900 degrees or certifications.
And over the last year, employers hired more than 1,900 new employees in these occupations every month. There are tremendous opportunities in these mid-skill occupations.
Healthcare presents an exceptional career pathway. Many of the skills learned as a medical or nursing assistant directly transfer to registered nurses or medical and clinical laboratory technologists. Registered nurses were not found in the mid-skill occupations, due to the large numbers with a bachelor’s degree or higher; therefore it is considered a career path opportunity. (See table)
Paul E. Hendershot serves as director of research at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Prior to joining the Charlotte Chamber team, he worked as manager of business development in the commercial real estate department at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and spent four years as the research director at the Dallas Regional Chamber. During his tenure with the Chamber, Hendershot completed more than 100 unique economic development projects including Comerica, AT&T, Gulfstream, Arbitron, Capital One and Research in Motion. He is also founder and chief economist of Hendershot Economics, where he defined the life sciences industry for BIOCOM, among other projects in the Greater San Diego region.
Data included in this article is inclusive of North Carolina’s Southwest Region Prosperity Zone, which includes Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly and Union counties.