Talent Pressures and the Aging Workforce: Health Care & Social Assistance Sector
by Stephen Sweet and Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes with Elyssa Besen, Shoghik Hovhannisyan, and Farooq Pasha
June 2010—As the nation prepares to provide care for the increasing proportion of older adults and the widespread implications of healthcare reform, healthcare workers are aging out of the sector, posing risks to talent resources, according to a new report by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Health care employers can expect a large-scale exodus of older workers in the forthcoming years, causing the need for skilled workers to likely increase.
In comparison to other sectors, the health care sector’s demographic profile is disproportionately composed of older workers. Yet, paradoxically, health care enterprises report engaging in significantly less assessment of their workforces. A lower percentage of health care organizations have assessed (to a moderate/great extent) the age of their workforces (29%), the skills they anticipate needing (42%), or the competency sets of current employees (48%), compared to employers in other industries (43%, 54% and 61%, respectively).
Evidence suggests that the sector is at least somewhat aware of the impending skills gap. About two in three employees in the health sector have received formal training from their employers (62%), and greater than one in three workers are involved in decision-making task forces (36%) or self managed teams (39%).
“The good news is that the health care sector is serious about investing in their employees,” said Center Director Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, co-primary investigator for the (2009) Talent Management Study and co-author of the report. “But the impending retirement of such a highly skilled workforce is creating shortages that could potentially affect the process and delivery of certain types of care.”
Currently, employers in the health care sector reported significantly more talent management concerns than organizations in other sectors of the economy.
The top five skills reportedly in short supply in the healthcare sector include: management skills (42.4%), sales/marketing skills (34.8%), legal skills (33.0%), operations skills (29.0%), and technical computer skills (27.6%). Additionally, health care organizations reported a greater shortage of customer-relations skills (26.0%), and nearly one in five employers (17%) reported basic skill needs, such as in literacy, writing, and math.
“Our findings suggest that the health care sector—the one most threatened by the aging of the workforce—has limited knowledge of the talent that will continue to be available to them,” Pitt-Catsouphes said. “Employers should take note and amplify investments in training, while also reconsidering recruitment and retention efforts—ultimately these investments could effect the health of the nation.”