Preparing students for careers in health care, the job of the future

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, Arizona is ranked among the top 15 states — not including Washington, D.C — in the nation with the highest unemployment rate.

Joshua Chumley

Joshua Chumley

The good news? The Bureau also reports unemployment is gradually decreasing, which is largely due to significant growth in the health care industry.

Driven by factors like an aging population and greater access to care, thousands of jobs in health care are being added each month. Last August alone, health care jobs spiked in Arizona to 4,100, the largest single-month gain for the industry since 1990. So, it’s probably no surprise at the national level, health care accounts for one out of every nine jobs.

Despite growth in job opportunities, entering the health care field may seem like an overwhelming, long and expensive process. The truth is, not everyone has to go the traditional medical school route in order to have a promising career in health care.

Dental hygienists, vocational nurses, medical assistants, veterinary technicians, pharmacy technicians, massage therapists, physical therapists (to name a few) are all in-demand positions that need to be filled.

Taking into account Arizona’s aging baby boomer population, our state will continue to see a surge in demand for health care workers over the course of the next decade, driven by employers such as Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Banner Health and Aspen Dental. That growth is already evident in the nearly 2,200 unfilled health care positions, plus the additional 800 jobs, according to a June 2015 Careerbuilder search, available to nurses throughout Arizona.

In order to secure these jobs, we cannot overlook the importance of employability — a candidate’s ability to market their skills and training to potential employers. Job seekers often think they have what employers are looking for, but they often under-communicate their abilities or misrepresent themselves when applying for jobs.

The most important thing I stress to health care students and career services teams is to begin taking the necessary actions to increase employability from the first time the student sets foot on campus. Understanding the hard and soft skills employers are looking for and how it relates to what will be taught in the classroom can greatly reduce the time it takes to find a job.

What I hear most from employers is the need for health care professionals to have exceptional soft skills, which are not easy to teach and even tougher to demonstrate in a job application. From bedside manner to projecting maturity and professionalism, employers will ask behavioral interview questions to assess whether candidates will fit into their culture and have what it takes to provide exceptional care to patients.

So how do you quickly prepare students of all ages and backgrounds to meet these standards as well as help them gain the technical skills they need? Integrating career coaching throughout the duration of the student lifecycle makes all the difference. Taking a holistic approach is something all career services departments should practice. Not only does it provide a much-needed support system, it allows students time to build their confidence so they are ready to face prospective employers and have a better chance of securing a job on their timeline.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and I’d argue that it’s both. Building a professional network and trustworthy reputation are often just as important as education, skills and training. In today’s job market, strong collaboration with industry partners is critical for both student and campus success.

These partnerships allow windows of opportunity such as matching students with local externships while they’re still in school to give them a head start on developing the hands-on training, soft skills and professionalism employers expect.

Many of the students I see benefit greatly from their externship experiences, which are like a “warm up” before the big game, and often those opportunities can turn into full-time job offers upon completion of the program. In return, employers have a steady stream of qualified, potential candidates whom they can groom for a current position or upcoming opening. It saves them time and money when they have reliable partners they can call upon to meet and anticipate their needs.

Health care is the job of the future, and there’s a starting point for everyone whether it’s working hands-on with people, animals, or managing administrative work behind-the-scenes in a doctor’s office. No matter where you are in your career, going back to school for a certificate or associate’s degree is a terrific way to get your foot in the door.

Editor’s note: Mr. Chumley is executive director of Carrington College in Phoenix.

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