High Job Growth Expected for US Healthcare – But Where Will The Workers Be?

Healthcare jobs will be amongst the fastest-growing in the United States through 2026, accounting for about 2.3 million new jobs, according to recent projections released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But will health providers have access to enough skilled workers to meet this growth? Probably not.

In many states, the projected supply of healthcare workers will   be unable to fill demand, according to Mercer’s recent US healthcare labor market analysis, which compares future supply and demand of workers to project workforce availability across 50 healthcare occupations through 2025.

More than half of the new jobs forecasted by BLS – about 1.6 million combined – will come from employment of Personal Care Aides, Home Health Aides and Registered Nurses, driven by an American population that’s trending older, sicker and more sedentary. It’s in precisely these high-growth jobs where our analysis shows likely gaps in demand and supply of workers. 

Workforce Challenges in Healthcare

Take Home Health Aides for example. According to BLS figures, employment is expected to grow 47% by 2026. However, our analysis shows that providers might find it tough to fill all these roles – with each state facing a likely gap of 2,000 workers on average by 2025 (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Home Health Aides – Projected Workforce Gaps and Surpluses by 2025 (By State)

Home Health Aides - Projected workforce gaps and surpluses by 2025, Mercer U.S.

A More Nuanced Story at a Local Level

Although workforce availability gaps are highly likely across the country in key occupations, our analysis shows vast differences by location, requiring providers to take a closer look at workforce trends in their state and municipality for the clearest picture.

Nurses will continue to be in high demand and it’s widely known that health systems are facing a nursing shortage across the country. However, when we take into account projected supply and demand by state, this story changes depending on where you look.

In fact, our analysis shows that in some states, the projected supply of Nurses is likely to exceed demand. So while Texas might expect to be short nearly 40,000 nurses by 2025, Illinois is likely to have a surplus of 15,000 in the same time period (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Nurses – Projected Workforce Gaps and Surpluses by 2025 (By State)

An even more detailed look within states though shows that even in states where there’s a projected surplus – like Illinois – workforce gaps are still likely, due to uneven economic and demographic growth in rural and urban areas (see figure 3). Cook and Will counties, which includes Chicago and some of its northern suburbs, are likely to see a surplus of 12,000 nurses through 2025—though much of this surplus will be Nursing Assistants. Communities in rural south central Illinois, however, are likely to see a gap of nearly 1,000 nurses during the same time period.

Figure 3: Nurses: Projected Workforce Gaps and Surpluses by 2025 (Within States)

Implications for Healthcare Providers

These potential gaps in availability of key workers will greatly impact providers as they consider the future-ready workforce they need to deliver quality patient care. A few things for providers to consider:   

  1. Understand full exposure to potential workforce risks – both external and internal.
    In addition to considering external labor market risks, providers must also understand the flow of employees in, through and out of its organization for the full picture. They need to know if any internal workforce gaps are likely to develop and why and how these internal gaps align with the projected external gaps presented in our analysis.

  2. Be proactive to mitigate the impact of workforce risks.
    Providers can’t control what’s happening in the external labor market, but our research suggests that effectively managing internal labor markets—through an optimized rewards strategy that retains workers, for instance—can help them at least mitigate their exposure to these risks.

  3. Determine how proposed workforce changes will impact patient health and satisfaction.
    Before making large investments, providers can use data and analytics to better understand the likely impact of changes on patient metrics. For example, our research suggests that human capital factors such as pay or staffing can have statistically significant impact on patient readmission rates in some clinical settings.  

The good news is that much of this work relies on data that healthcare systems already collect. So it’s not a matter of getting new data, but rather better-leveraging data to develop empirical insights that will drive strategic workforce planning.

By supplementing this internal data with an analysis of the external labor market (which we’ve already completed), providers will get a clear view of the labor risks they face and the actions they need to take toward building a future-ready workforce.

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