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Training Network Helps Pinpoint Where The Healthcare Jobs Are

Initiative works closely with healthcare companies to learn what skills are most in demand.

State labor officials are trying to help job-seekers find employment in healthcare, long one of New Jersey's most dynamic generators of new jobs.

The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development is beginning year two of its "talent network" initiative, which seeks to promote economic development in six key sectors, one of which is healthcare. Robert Grimmie, director of the labor department's Center for Occupational Employment Information, said part of the mission of the state's Health Care Talent Network, which is based at Rutgers, is to gather real-time intelligence on the specific healthcare jobs in high demand, then get that information out to the unemployed, so they can pursue the education and skills that will land them jobs.

Considerable attention is being paid to New Jersey's primary care physician shortage, and to the need for nurses to replace those expected to retire in the next few years. But plenty of healthcare occupations require far less education. For example, Grimmie said the healthcare talent network sees strong demand for certified nurse assistants, home health aides, EKG technicians, phlebotomists, and sleep center technicians.

Grimmie said the state is launching a new program to help employers train new workers for available jobs. Right now the state awards job-training grants to employers to improve the skills of their current workers. But under this new program, some of the training dollars will go to employers to enable them to hire workers, with the state training grants funding to be used to prepare the new hires for their new jobs.

Grimmie said the state has gotten 16 applications for this new program and will make its initial grants in the next few weeks. Several applicants are healthcare employers. "We're asking the talent networks to really shepherd this new program," he said. "We want these training dollars to be allocated to actual job openings. If the employer is willing to make a reasonable commitment to hire, we want to have job-ready candidates and the training dollars can fill that need."

Healthcare has been a consistent job-creation engine for years. According to figures from the state labor department, from 1990 through 2011, the sector added 174,500 jobs, and the department is projecting healthcare will generate 56,000 new jobs in the state from 2008 to 2019.

Economist James Hughes, dean of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, said the performance of healthcare during the recession gives a dramatic view of its impact on the state's economy. He said from December 2007, just prior to the start of the recession, to May of 2012, private sector employment has fallen by 185,400 jobs, a decline of 5.3 percent. But he said during that same period, health care employment grew by 40,900 jobs, or 8.3 percent. "The health sector essentially had no recession, it just kept growing."

Grimmie said healthcare is a growing field, but it is also very complex. During the first year of the talent network "a lot of time was spent diving into the industry and separating fact from fiction" by talking to healthcare employers. For example, experts outside of healthcare were advocating that the labor department start to train the unemployed for jobs in electronic records management.

But Grimmie said healthcare providers told the talent network that they wanted to train their current workers to electronic records management, rather than hiring new employees. "They already had good, qualified medical professional who knew how to keep medical records, how to read charts and handle billing -- all of the elements that would go into electronic records management. So now it was just a matter of getting them up to speed on the technology." He said by working closely with employers, the talent networks are able to maximize a state workforce's training dollars. "It was really helpful to have all these direct partners in the employer community put up a stop sign and say 'you could train as many people as you want but we are not going to need them.'"

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