HELP WANTED

Growing industries are finding it difficult to fill vacant positions

Top employment growth sectors are driving job creation around the country and subsequently improving unemployment rates. And while many workers remain unemployed, a lack of skilled workers has led to vacant positions within the top growth sectors, leaving employers scrambling to fill positions and educational institutions working to produce a trained workforce.

The Washington State Employment Security Department’s April-May 2005 job vacancy survey revealed there were an estimated 70,653 unfilled positions in the state, the highest number in the survey’s three-year history. In June, there were 180,500 unemployed workers in the state, with 12,400 living in Clark County. One in five unfilled positions was in the healthcare industry. Openings for registered nurses led the way with 4,473 vacancies. Computer software engineers and food preparation workers showed strong demand with 1,714 and 1,663 respective openings.
“Two of our future strategic priorities should be to focus the college’s resources in especially two sectors — healthcare and transportation,” said Clark College President Wayne Branch.
In terms of transportation, Branch said the college has partnered with the Port of Vancouver to address the development of access to goods throughout the region and the enterprises that support the port.
“Whatever support we can provide the transportation sector,” said Branch, “is another good use of public resources to support the local economy.”
The college recently concluded a transportation skills panel, which Branch said “helped us to better connect with business and industry. They have communicated their employment needs and potential opportunities in everything from freight mobility, supply chain and demand and rail.”
Clark is also looking to import programs and curriculum from the railroad technologies program at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., the only one of its kind in the country.

A need for nurses

But it is healthcare that is facing a crisis. And Clark College has immediate plans to grow existing programs and launch new ones to meet demand.
“Healthcare is such an emerging issue with the additional facilities being developed by the Vancouver Clinic, Legacy Health System, Southwest Washington Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente that it’s incumbent from the college’s perspective that we develop strategies and programs to focus on that field,” said Branch.
Clark College has the largest nursing program in the state, with about 120 full-time-equivalent students. The college plans to boost those numbers through the Clark Center at Washington State University Vancouver, expected to be completed in November. The 65,761-square-foot facility will accommodate 1,100 full-time students, allowing more room for the nursing program and other Clark programs to grow.
lark College Vice President of Instruction Roberto Gutierrez said there are 830 openings statewide for registered nurses each year. Locally there are about 130, but the college graduates only 80. The college is also in the development stages of offering a one-year licensed practical nurse program.
Students who complete the Clark nursing program have the option to continue onto WSUV’s bachelor and master nursing programs.
“This is just one example of how Clark and WSU are working together,” said Gutierrez. Clark is also working with the medical community to create an imaging technician program scheduled to begin in winter 2006.
Research shows there are 44 openings each year locally for radiological technologists, said Gutierrez, and Clark’s imaging technician program will graduate about 16 students each year.
Legacy provided Clark College more than $200,000 to implement the program. SWMC provided Clark with equipment for the program.
“We are very pleased that we have been able to collaborate with a variety of organizations and respond by developing the infrastructure to train people in related fields,” said Gutierrez

Imagine: imaging staff

Diane Buelt, director of imaging at Legacy Health System, said demand for qualified workers is likely higher than Clark’s estimate. Legacy has 300 imaging services employees, including 30 radiological technologists at its new Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital. Aside from transfers from inside the Legacy system, much of the new hires came from outside the area, including Arizona and Alabama, said Buelt. And not every position has been filled yet, as the hospital is having trouble hiring for the hard-to-fill shifts, including part-time and night slots.
Demand for services is driving the demand for workers, said Buelt.
“Imaging is being used more and more,” she said. “Technology continues to be more refined, increasing applications.”
In addition, more outpatient imaging offices are being built, creating more staffing demands. The result is increased costs to employers and patients. Legacy has been forced to use contract staffing, said Buelt, which is four times as costly and creates inefficiencies.
Legacy has also worked with Oregon schools to launch and expand imaging technician training programs, and as it was moving into a new community, Legacy targeted Clark. Similar partnerships will allow Clark College to maintain its commitment to developing the region’s workforce, said Branch.
“Our goal is to respond to the needs of Southwest Washington in real time,” he said.
Branch sees three common factors among the top growth sectors: technology, international trade and market expansion, and the knowledge-based economy.
“Those things are colliding, I believe, at such a rapid pace that to some degree it is forcing higher education to revaluate the rules by which we have been operating,” he said.

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