Fixing New Jersey’s Health Care Jobs Crisis – Part 2


Source: NJ Spotlight

Academic leaders are now meeting with business representatives and health care providers to develop curricula to best prepare students for today’s dynamic workforce.

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities, the NJBIA partnership with county colleges, is slated to receive $6 million next year to finish building the program infrastructure, according to those involved. It received $8.5 million under the current fiscal year budget.

Aaron Fichtner, president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, said the primary health workforce collaboration is spearheaded by Camden County College, and six others will also participate. Three additional county colleges are focused on health care technology and administration issues. The partnership also stands to bring the colleges closer, as they will be able to share lessons and instructors.

New Jersey’s 18 county and community colleges already train a large percentage of the state’s health care workforce, Fichtner said. In 2021, they awarded nearly 4,000 degrees and certificates for studies in health fields, he said, nearly 20% all county college degrees granted that year.

The pathways program is not just about academic preparation, but will also be designed to help people move up the career ladder once they are employed — chances that many have said are lacking in the current system for direct care workers in lower-wage jobs. “That is at the heart of our pathways concept, to build these stackable pathways for progression at all levels.”

There is also a shortage of health care educators in many fields, including nursing, which makes expanding classes a challenge. Buteas, at NJBIA, is also part of a coalition that recently convinced the health department to revisit the regulations around nursing aide instructors to make it easier for colleges to find teachers.

Another concern is the state licensing process, which Buteas and others said has been slowed under the pandemic, leaving trained individuals unable to get the paperwork they need to start working. Higher education officials, health care providers and business interests are urging the state to improve the process, she said.

The partnership program could have a noticeable, long-term impact on New Jersey’s health care staffing shortage, Fichtner and Buteas agreed, but it will take time to produce results: “If we only focus on the immediate, we lunge from one crisis to another and never really solve the bigger issue.”

But Buteas would also like to see more immediate relief for the sector and called on state officials to invest a portion of New Jersey’s federal COVID-19 relief — some $3 billion remains unspent — on short-term solutions. “The employers and their employees are struggling. Can we sit around the table and actually figure out what the best use for those funds would be to actually help the sector that was on the front lines?”

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