The Healthiest Job Market? Health.

REGION – Imagine this employment picture: The number of new jobs both nationwide and in northern Michigan rated as "excellent"; faster than average growth predicted for the next decade; good opportunity for advancement; the ability to specialize; attractive wages and benefits; and a flexible scheduling with part-time, on-call, and temporary positions widely available. Plus, this job satisfaction intangible – improving the quality of life for the people you work with and their families.

Sound like economic nostalgia from the 1990s?

Think again. Those rosy particulars actually describe the current employment picture in the healthcare industry – nationally, and in northern Michigan, too.

"Healthcare is definitely a bright spot compared to the rest of the economy," says Jeff Rose, director of employment services for Munson Healthcare. "It's a solid career area and I think it will continue to lead in the general employment market."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare employers nationwide have added an average of 27,000 new jobs a month since December of 2010. In January, the latest month that data was available, health care employment continued to grow, adding 31,000 new jobs. Within the industry, the Bureau says, hospitals and ambulatory care services each added 13,000 new jobs.

"These aren't just clinical jobs either," says Carol Ross, branch manager for Manpower's Traverse City office. "They're also front office, receptionist, schedulers, and office management."

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics' figures collected by the governmental office are supported by those collected by Manpower, one of the nation's largest employment services companies. In the U.S. in 2011, Manpower reportedly placed clients in 8,500 new positions in both clinical and non-clinical areas. One in five, or 20 percent, of the new jobs the company filled last year was healthcare-related. And the variety of new jobs was broad, according to Manpower's Director of Healthcare Support Services, Linda Crane, and included not only nurses, lab techs and occupational therapists but also clerical, health support, food service and finance.

Locally, the unemployment rate for Traverse City and the surrounding area in 2011 was 11.5 percent, higher than the national average of nine percent; yet area employers say some healthcare jobs are still unfilled.

"We're hiring," says Rose. "We're looking for a broad range of great people to join Munson's Healthcare team, from food service workers who may not have had any prior experience to nurses that are new graduates, to particular clinical folks who have had specialized experience."

According to Rose, Munson Healthcare hires approximately 500 people a year with 128 open positions advertised on its website,

Manpower's Carol Ross says her office doesn't have a waiting list of open positions, but actively works day-to-day across Traverse City, Benzie and Kalkaska counties, filling a variety of non-clinical jobs.

Northwestern Michigan College recently let its nursing grads know about 51 regional nursing positions, 26 of which were local. Both Rose and Ross said that job openings in healthcare are ongoing; when one is filled another often opens up, a trend that could actually increase as the economy continues to improve.

These openings are just the beginning, at least where registered nurses are concerned, says Northwestern Michigan College's Jean Rokos.

"There are a number of older nurses in the area who planned to retire, but because of the economy, just haven't yet," says Rokos, who is NMC's academic chair of health occupations. "Their spouses or significant others were layed off or lost their jobs, so they had to keep working. When the economy picks up, we are going to see these retirement numbers rise."

NMC offers both RN and LPN degrees. According to Rokos, there is still a good job market for LPNs who often fill home health care and extended care positions, but since 2009 any LPN with an associate degree hired by Munson is required to complete their bachelor's degree and become an RN within 10 years. The time to prepare to fill all those future positions is right now, she said.

"We've been fortunate here, and we don't have a shortage because we have such a good relationship with Munson," Rokos said. "But retirement and shortages are a pretty consistent issue nationally, and what we do have is a long waiting list."

Currently, there is a four-semester wait list for new RN students at NMC. That's after they complete their pre-requisite coursework. A bill under consideration by the Michigan legislature to allow NMC to offer four-year nursing degrees would not impact the waitlist, she said.

The availability of jobs, the positive working environment, and the opportunity to help people far outweigh negatives like education wait time when considering a career in the healthcare field, says Munson's Jeff Ross.

"When folks who are considering different careers come and speak to me about it, I always encourage them to go into healthcare," he said. "There's so much variety. It is just a real solid career choice." BN