Health Care Driving Job Market

October 3, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — According to the Michigan Department of Labor and Growth, jobs are expected to rise by 20 percent in the local health-care field and grow by 28 percent in the medical support area by the time 2012 rolls around.

A forecast from the state's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives shows that the health-care industry in the Grand Rapids area is expected to add 4,290 jobs by 2012 to bring the field's total employment to 25,320. That increase represents a gain of 20.4 percent from the 2002 employment figure.

The same 10-year outlook has local employment in support services rising by 2,980 jobs to 13,650 in 2012, a net gain of 27.9 percent from 2002.

Adding the two fields together shows that the health-care labor force should reach 38,970 seven years from now — up by 7,270 workers, or 22.9 percent, from three years ago. As a contrast, total employment here is expected to rise by 14 percent over the same period.

The reasons for that projected growth in health care are multiple.

First, the population is aging and an older population demands more health services, and more trained personnel will be needed to deliver those services. By next year the number of people in the U.S. labor force aged 55 to 64 is expected to be 51 percent higher than it was just five years ago; the metro area isn't exempt from that statistic.

But demand for medical services is also rising because the overall population in West Michigan is growing, and doing so at a rate higher than much of the rest of the state.

KentCounty is ranked third in numerical change between 2000 and 2004. There were only two counties in the state that were higher — that would be Macomb and Livingston," said Brian Waters, a labor market analyst with the bureau, who specializes in employment data for Grand Rapids and West Central Michigan.

Waters said that other nearby counties, such as Allegan, Ottawa and Oceana, also gained more residents than most other locales in the state.

In addition to population changes, technological advances in the industry have also fueled demand by creating more testing procedures that require more personnel to conduct those tests. In turn, new occupations for technicians are popping up and jobs in those specialized fields are expected to grow in the coming years.

"There are a lot of specialties going on in health care. Someone is not going to be a general nurse anymore; they really have to specialize in what they're going to do," said Waters.

A call for more services is also coming from the insurance industry as part of the field's attempt to contain costs. That effort has resulted in more attention being turned toward preventive measures, which are less costly than treatments.

"They are really pushing people to go seek annual visits, or bi-yearly visits to the dentist, sort of like a preventative care approach to health care," said Waters.

Waters added that consumers are also more aware of the risks that can hamper a healthy life and are requesting services such as smoking-cessation classes and weight-loss programs to help eliminate those threats from their daily lives.

There are 53 occupations listed in the job forecast. Forty are in health care, while 13 are in the support field. Twenty-six of those are projected to grow by 20 percent or more by 2012. The three expected to have the largest percentage growth by then are home health aides, medical assistants and medical record technicians. Many of the fastest growing occupations are for technicians and therapists. (See related chart.)

The bureau compiles the job forecast from industry projections made for the state and puts that data into a total employment concept that creates a demographic composition of the labor force for the area. Waters said that when he and others analyze the numbers, they don't place a big emphasis on the percentage gain. Rather, they focus on the numerical gain.

For instance, Waters mentioned that jobs for respiratory therapy technicians are expected to grow by a third from 2002 to 2012 — a percentage that is a lot higher than the projected growth for the overall industry.

"But, if you look at the change, it's only 30 (positions) over that 10-year period," he said. "That's kind of the caveat that we want people to understand about this projection."    

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