Health Sector a Good Bet for Jobs as Training Funds Multiply

Cherrie Lenz of West Palm Beach was a medical massage therapist for 25 years, but says she lost her job when Medicare rules changed. She would like to stay in health care, but is not in a financial position to return to school.

Could stimulus funds earmarked for job training help her? Without income and the inability to go back to her occupation, she would qualify for free training through the federal stimulus and other programs.

Lenz might pursue an individual training grant, up to $6,000, toward becoming a physical therapist, suggests Linda Quick, director of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association. Or, if she already has computer skills, she might pursue a new career in health information technology ? the next generation of medical bill coding.

Job training dollars are being pumped into the medical field in Florida. Why? While most other industries have been losing jobs, health care continues to add them. Statewide, staffing at hospitals increased by 8,000 jobs and healthcare services by 4,200 in July from a year ago.

Quick’s association surveys hospitals and other health care providers to find their greatest employee needs. Training is then geared toward jobs that are available now and in the near future.

"You can give me all the training in the world, but if there are no jobs on the other end, training is ineffective," says Mason Jackson, chief executive of Broward’s employment agency Workforce One, which is distributing federal stimulus and state funds for health care training.

Unemployed and dislocated workers are most likely to receive the training dollars, but there also are funds available through stimulus and other programs to upgrade skills of employed workers.

Six registered nurses in South Florida’s Memorial Healthcare System, for example, are training to be specialty nurses through a program with Workforce One.

Natalie Lloyd, 38, is an RN at Memorial training to be a nurse in labor and delivery. "I’ve always wanted to be on the exciting side of nursing. You’re bringing a new life into the world," she says.

The training is free and when she completes it, Lloyd will get a boost in pay.

Quick says hospitals are trying to move registered nurses up the career ladder to nursing faculty positions and specialty jobs, where there are shortages. There’s also a need to train licensed practical nurses, which are no longer being hired by hospitals, to become RNs.

"We’re not so much using the [stimulus] money to employ more people but to train people for employment that already exists," Quick says.

This strategy eventually will create more jobs because "if you’re training people for existing positions, you’re leaving space for new people," adds Joyita Garg, who is working with Quick on coordinating stimulus funding for health care training in South Florida.

How do you get free job training in health care or other areas? Visit Workforce One or Palm Beach County’s Workforce Alliance for a career assessment and training evaluation.

There’s also free training for entry-level jobs such as mental health technicians, phlebotomists and EKG technicians and pharmacy technicians, with eventual pay ranging from $10 to $13 an hour.

And nearly everyone in health care will eventually have to become competent in health information technology.

So if, like Lenz, you’re looking for a job for the future, some combination of health care and technology might be the ticket.


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