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2010 healthcare employment trends

Earlier this week, I wrote about how we'd be starting a new series that would explore industry- and region-specific employment trends. We're going to kick off this series with a discussion of employment trends we can expect to witness in the health and life sciences industries in 2010 and beyond.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak with Yoh's Pete Ferguson, President, Health & Life Sciences, and Mike Gamble, Director, Strategic Sales Health & Life Sciences, about what they're seeing in terms of staffing in the healthcare, scientific, and clinical sectors of the life science industry; the skill sets that are in greatest demand; and the economic and social events that are having the biggest impact on the workforce. Here's what they had to say:

Overall, the healthcare industry has not experienced widespread employment growth. It has, however, fared better than most industries, thanks, in part, to a growing elderly population that is maintaining a strong need for healthcare and nursing services, and driving the development of new meds and vaccines. In addition, despite hiring freezes and headcount restrictions imposed in 2009 due to the faltering economy, and in some cases, workforce reductions that have ensued as drugs have come off patent, the employment situation has been helped along by unique projects and events. For example, H1N1 vaccine production helped ease some of the pain.

Our experience at Yoh provides us with the opportunity to serve Clinical (research, drug development), Healthcare (nurses focused on occupational healthcare support and case management), and Scientific (biologists, chemists, etc.) talent needs. We're now seeing a number of trends that are shifting the way we place and seek high-impact talent in each of these areas.

An area that we believe will have a significant impact on healthcare employment in 2010 and beyond (and one that we've already hinted at above) is the aging population. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging predicts there will be approximately 71.5 million people 65 and older in the U.S. by 2030 -- more than double the number in 2000.

As the elderly population expands, we'll see less emphasis on the development of small-molecule drugs and more of a focus on long-term projects that will directly impact the aging population, such as the creation of medical devices. We can also expect to see an increased demand for nurses, although the nurse shortage that is often talked about does not currently exist in most metropolitan areas.

The possibility of major healthcare reforms is likely to mean that we will see growth in the development of generic medications. We can also expect to see more stringent efforts surrounding patent protection, which will drive many pharmaceutical companies into biologics and vaccines, increasing demand for workers with these skill sets. Pharmaceutical companies will look to insulate themselves from generic competitors.

There is also a large amount of stimulus money being put into updating electronic medical records, so there will be an increased need for personnel with the medical and technical expertise to complete these tasks.

Recently, more large pharmaceutical companies have been pursuing licensing partnerships with smaller biotech companies in order to cut back on their own drug discovery. The smaller firms handle the discovery, and big pharma takes responsibility for testing and marketing the product. This is likely to continue. Drug discovery and development can become very costly, and these partnerships ensure that large pharma saves money in the long-term.

What are the hotbeds for health and life sciences talent? The demand for pharma and biotech skills can be seen most strongly in the Philly/NJ/NY corridor, Research Triangle Park, San Diego and Southern California, the Bay area and Northern California, and Boston. In our experience, employees with experience in occupational health are needed most in Texas, California, Arizona, and New England.

We're eager to see how these trends play out as 2010 progresses, and the impact an economic recovery will have on the employment market. Hopefully, the stimulus money that is being reinvested in the economy, as well as some of the President's other job initiatives, will have a positive effect. We've already started to see the unemployment rate drop slightly, and with any luck, the downward movement will continue.


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