Early each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes data on the employment status of Americans for the previous month. As we begin September, unemployment in the U.S. is at its lowest in a long time – down to 5.1% - for me, certainly an attention grabber -- but what I find really compelling are the numbers associated with the growth of jobs in health care and in community and social services. In the past year, over 560,000 new jobs in health and social services were created – 56,000 of those in the past month. In an improved, yet still uncertain economy one thing is certain: changes in demography and changes encouraged by the Affordable Care Act in how we deliver health and related services are breeding new and some yet unimagined opportunities for our CHHS graduates.
Predictions in job growth by the year 2022 across all of our disciplines are astounding. Almost all are growing faster than average when compared with other occupations (Nurse Practitioner +34%, Clinical Social Work +27%, Exercise and Wellness +24%, Health Educator/Public Health +21%, Respiratory Therapy +21%). As I deal with the complex and inevitable health issues for my mother (87 years old) and mother-in-law (99 years old) – who both reside in independent living apartments for seniors – I can see the opportunity clearly. Our aging parents and grandparents will be spending less time receiving care in a hospital than previous generations. Care and social service support will have to be delivered in the community, and importantly, preventive care will be a major focus in the 70s and beyond as folks live well into their 90s.
Given the greying of America and the ACA, increasing numbers of jobs in health and social services will materialize, but what will our graduates need to know and what should they be able to do? Our cities and towns will need us more than ever, and care will be community-centric. Our future success can’t simply be measured by the numbers of jobs we possess; it will be measured by improved population health outcomes. It will hinge on our ability to see beyond the specific medical or social issue people need help with and work in a context that engages our skills not only as clinicians, but also as people.
It our continuing mission to ensure that CHHS graduates leave UNC Charlotte imbued with the technical skills necessary to become leaders in their profession. But, it is my hope that in the process of learning these skills, students also gain mastery of the nuanced traits that in many ways are the essence of health and human services work. Communication skills, understanding of the living environment, empathy, a kind heart and an open mind—these are what will distinguish the good from the great. The jobs outlook for us is astounding – but it challenges us to dig deeper now and moving forward. For in each new opening created, there exists more than a chance for employment; it is also the unique opportunity and awesome responsibility to make meaningful change for so many in need.