A Publication of WTVP

In previous articles, I've explored shortages of occupations in critical industries in our region that affect our regional economy. In national, state, and local projections, health care has emerged as an industry with a number of occupational shortages. The occupations identified in short supply include nurses, therapists, medical imaging, medical records and health technicians, medical and clinical lab technicians, and pharmacists.

Health care occupations like therapists are among the most rapidly growing, both regionally and nationally. Within central Illinois, several types of therapists are projected to be in short supply. Regional health care industry representatives have cited physical therapists, occupational therapists, and respiratory therapists as occupations experiencing shortages. They've also asserted that these therapists are very difficult to recruit and retain. Local research also identified possible causes for the shortages: escalating educational requirements, underproduction of therapists within the region, and inadequate compensation and job satisfaction.

Changing certification standards have raised the educational requirements for therapists. Most therapists now require at least a bachelor's degree for professional certification. Some require a master's degree, and physical therapists may soon require a Ph.D. Raising educational requirements has impacted the supply of therapists because community colleges can no longer produce these professionals. Other aggravating factors include the fact that as older therapists now practicing under "grandfather licensure" retire, they must be replaced by new entrants to the profession with bachelor's degrees and higher.

In addition to changing educational requirements, central Illinois isn't producing the number of graduates needed to meet projected labor shortages. One problem is lukewarm interest in some therapist programs. A second is the lack of educational capacity. Currently, only one university offers training for therapists in the region. A third problem lies in the fact that graduates from regional programs are often in high demand throughout the state and the nation.

As a result, the realities of supply and demand begin to impact local economies. Pressure increases on local health care employers to recruit and retain therapists from other areas in the state and country. These factors lead to competitive pay and working conditions. Other challenges include encouraging more young people to aspire to health care careers and preparing high school students with the proper academic foundation to pursue health care occupations.

Medical imaging is another occupation projected to be in short supply within central Illinois. National and local employment projections indicate the demand for medical imaging technologists and technicians is increasing rapidly. The field has also grown beyond radiology to include sonography, tomography, and other sub-specialties. As these technologies advance, a growing percentage of hospitals and clinics are acquiring an array of medical imaging devices. The operation of these devices requires increasing numbers of technologists and technicians.

Jobs for radiologic technologists and technicians are projected to grow nationally by 22.9 percent between 2002 and 2012. Within our region, they're projected to grow by a minimum of 12.5 percent. Employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to increase nationally by 24 percent from 2002 to 2010 and regionally by 24.8 percent from 2000 to 2010.

As with therapists, the ability of local health care employers to hire a sufficient number of imaging technicians depends on their ability to effectively retain and recruit talent from other parts of the state or nation. The attractiveness of our region, its workplaces, and the compensation packages offered will also impact the competitiveness of central Illinois.

In future issues, I'll continue to explore the new frontier for the 21st century-the frontier of cultivating, developing, retaining, and attracting talent as a primary factor for economic prosperity. IBI