Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics division made a splash releasing its crystal-ball employment projections for the coming decade. After combing through the data (and to paraphrase that iconic line about “plastics” from the The Graduate), the key takeaway boils down to two words: health care.
In a moment, I’ll offer a few tips for people in their 50s and 60s on how to capitalize on this trend when job hunting for full-time work or part-time work in retirement.
But first, a little bit about BLS’s forecasts.
Not ‘Plastics,’ But Health Care
Over the next decade, BLS projects health care to have both the fastest job growth of all fields and the most new jobs. By 2024, it predicts the health care and social assistance sector will be the nation’s largest employing sector, accounting for 13.6 percent of all jobs, overtaking the state and local government and professional and business services sectors. (Social assistance includes individual and family services; community food and housing and other relief services; vocational rehab services and child care.)
Health care support occupations and what the government calls “health care practitioners and technical occupations” are projected to account for about 1 in 4 new jobs.
The largest projected job growth: home health care services, outpatient care centers and offices of health practitioners other than physicians.
The top three industries with the largest projected employment growth from 2014 to 2024: home health care services (up 4.8 percent a year), outpatient care centers (up 4.1 percent) and offices of health practitioners other than physicians (up 3.8 percent).
“Health care jobs are some of the best professions that we track in the Jobs Rated Report [which ranks 200 jobs],” says Kyle Kensing, Online Content Editor for CareerCast, a job search portal. “Many of the jobs in CareerCast’s annual Best Jobs in Healthcare report — just out — focus on preventative care. These opportunities offer some of the highest growth outlook, which points to increased consumer demand in the years to come.”
Where the Jobs Won’t Be
By contrast, the government foresees the biggest total job losses by 2024 at the Postal Service, in the federal non-defense government sector and at newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers.
Here’s something else interesting from the BLS forecasts: Due to the aging of the U.S. population, by 2024, the government expects 8.2 percent of the workforce will be 65 or older, up from 5.4 percent in 2014. (Of course, whether that many people will be able to work past age 65 remains to be seen. A recent Transamerica survey found that many retirees stop working before they planned to.)
The Drawbacks of Health Care Work
Now, back to health care. While the outlook for jobs there is decidedly more promising than in other fields, that doesn’t mean finding a job in health care — full-time, part-time or as a flexible retirement gig — is the right solution for you.
For one thing, many of the highest-growth health care jobs pay pitifully little. For example, median annual salaries for personal care- and home health aides average a paltry $20,440 and $21,380 respectively. (The government didn’t offer pay forecasts.)
In addition, hands-on health care jobs, such as home health care aides or nurses, can be stressful, physically taxing and require long hours.
Finally, many health care positions require lengthy training and certification processes — which can be especially challenging for midlife career changers.
3 Tips to Make the Transition
So as with any career shift, it’s critically important to do your homework before investing in making a job change or career transition into the health care arena. But if you’re up for the challenge, here are three tips to help ease the transition:
1. Don’t assume you need to be a doctor or a nurse to work in health care. There are thousands of jobs in in non-clinical support roles that might be a strong fit with your existing skillset. For example, hospitals hire people to work as accountants, senior care centers employ PR people and doctors’ offices have bookkeepers.
Think about the transferable skills you can offer and then identify places that might benefit from your skills. Read publications in the health care industry, review professional association websites and reach out to health professionals in your network to learn more about industry trends, training programs and job opportunities.
Even if you don’t land your dream job initially, once you get your foot in the door, you might be able to take advantage of on-the-job training programs that can help qualify you for other positions down the road.
2. Investigate training programs at community colleges. Some schools offer relatively short-term, low-cost certificate programs to prepare you for work as, say, a dental assistant, physical therapy aide, electrocardiogram technician or medical billing reimbursement specialist. They tend to be oriented towards adult learners and career changers and are typically offered during evening hours.
As an example, at my local community college, where you can study to become an EKG technician, the course includes 21 hours of classroom instruction and 21 hours of practical hands-on training. Cost: $750 plus textbook. Upon successful completion, you get a certificate and are eligible to take an examination offered by the National Health Care Association to become certified.
3. Consider starting your own business to assist people dealing with health or aging challenges. If you’d prefer to be your own boss and have an entrepreneurial bent, this is a way to capitalize on the health care trend.
As more Americans age, there will be a growing demand for a whole host of non-medical support services, such as providing a car service to doctors appointments, offering assistance filing medical claims and running specialized fitness programs for people with degenerative and age-related conditions.
Once you land a few satisfied clients, chances are you’ll be able to build your business through referrals.
Another option might be to buy into a health care-related franchise, where you can get advice and assistance from the franchisor. Three of the top 10 choices in the “under $150,000” list of Forbes’ The Best Franchises to Buy in 2015 are home-health or senior-care focused businesses.