Washington, D.C. – Metropolitan Washington lags slightly behind the national average in developing new jobs in the fast-growing health care sector, even though the region has produced jobs in other sectors at twice the national rate, experts at “United for Jobs: A Region Forum on Careers in Health” said today. The forum was organized by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).
Workforce and health care experts at the forum focused on the need for regional leaders to increase funding for community colleges to prepare candidates for jobs in new areas of the health care sector, such as health information management, and to help colleges and universities create more clinical training facilities. Participants also encouraged philanthropic organizations to support more scholarships for prospective students in health care related fields.
The important role of community colleges was highlighted by Matt Erskine, executive director of the Greater Washington Initiative (GWI). “This region has had the second best general job growth in the nation: we are twice the national average and just behind Dallas,” he said. Erskine noted that projections indicate that the largest gap in future job growth and skilled employees is in fields requiring two-year degrees, which are provided by community colleges. He added that COG, GWI, and the Greater Washington Board of Trade could take the lead in advocating for more funding and regional coordination on workforce development.
“We have an opportunity here in metropolitan Washington to develop the most competitive healthcare workforce in the country. We are home to one of the nation’s strongest economies and we have fantastic academic and research institutions. But for all of our strengths, we don’t have a regional healthcare workforce strategy,” said District of Columbia Councilmember Kwame Brown, Chair of the COG Board of Directors. “We are better positioned to prosper—especially in this time of limited resources—if we band together as a region.”
Forum participants also emphasized the need for a new regional marketing strategy that would serve multiple purposes, such as promoting the region’s current assets and increasing awareness of the wide variety of jobs in the health care sector. As the demand for new careers in the sector – such as in Electronic Health Records (HER) management – grows, the demand for more traditional jobs including physical and occupational therapists and nurses is projected to increase significantly as well. A critical shortage of nurses led The George Washington University to open a new School of Nursing, said Ellen Dawson, Chair of the university’s Department of Nursing.
“Our region is projected to create an additional 1.2 million jobs over the next 20 years, but we need to be prepared to fill them,” said William Euille, Mayor of Alexandria and Chair of COG’s Workforce Competitiveness Task Force. He said a summary report of today’s discussion and recommendations for next steps will be presented at next week’s COG Board of Directors meeting.
“We see a generational shift in what is needed (for many healthcare jobs,) said Elyse Kaplan, Vice President of Human Resources for Adventist Health Care Inc. “We need a workforce that is comfortable with technological developments and able to quickly adapt to information technology changes.” Kaplan noted that this flexibility will enable workers to advance their careers, a recommendation of COG’s regional workforce development report, Closing the Gaps to Build the Future. The report served as the catalyst for the United for Jobs forum.
*To see a video of the luncheon panel of staff writers from The Washington Post discussing the recently passed health care reform legislation, please click here.