The HIMSS Foundation is passionate about leading the way for the future digital health workforce. The Foundation provides educational and professional opportunities to prepare the next generation of health information and technology leaders through scholarships, grants, internships, and externships. Tom Leary, Executive Director of the HIMSS Foundation, says, "Aligned with the mission of the Foundation, HIMSS enters its second year working on a promising effort taking shape in my home state of New Jersey, called NJ Pathways -- a statewide initiative bringing together community colleges and employers to provide people with Healthcare IT and Admin experiential learning and educational opportunities to close the talent gap." NJ Pathways was made possible through a two-year investment of $14.5 million that began in 2022 from the governor and the state legislature. Formally named "New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities," the initiative is led by the state's 18 community colleges and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, with Essex County College (ECC) leading the Healthcare IT & Admin Center of Innovation. ECC is partnering with four high schools on dual-enrollment programs, the Rutgers University Health Information Management program, and industry partners to prepare students for Health Information Management careers. The pathway centers on the HIMSS industry-valued credentials, Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS), the only industry credential available with a high school diploma or GED pre-requisite.
NJ Pathways brings together industry and education partners to create an education ecosystem connected statewide and guided by industry leaders to build an innovative workforce in the Garden State. Julia Staas, New Jersey HIMSS Chapter President, remarks, "This cutting-edge initiative has the full backing of the Chapter, representing more than 1,700 health information and management professionals. Strengthening the state's healthcare IT infrastructure requires this important workforce development investment. Our board of directors is personally supporting the efforts at ECC."
ALIGNING CURRICULUM AND WORKFORCE SKILLS
NJ Pathways celebrated its first anniversary in April 2023 with notable accomplishments within the Health Information Technology & Admin Center. We worked collaboratively this last year with partners from across the state to ensure Essex County College (ECC) students pursuing a General Science A.S. degree can maximize the transferability of community college credits to enroll in Rutgers University’s School of Health Professions (RU-SHP) Health Information Management (HIM) B.S. degree program. Articulation agreements with four-year institutions are crucial to student success. Our students are hard workers, and upon completion of the articulation agreement with RU-SHP, 100% of their credits earned at ECC will transfer to RU-SHP.", says Dr. Elvy Vieira, Dean of ECC's Office of Community, Continuing Education & Workforce Development. "In addition to working upstream, we also worked downstream and established four partnerships with area high schools to begin offering a dual-enrollment program for healthcare information technology and admin. Our community has many youth with exceptional talents who pursue dual enrollment; this year, I attended the ECC graduation and was proud of the over 100 dual enrollment graduates."
Employers in the healthcare information technology sector seek various skills from prospective workers. To align the needs of Employers with curriculum, HIMSS analyzed all open health IT job requisitions in New Jersey for early-career, < 6-month experience roles and high-school diploma or two-year degree. Given that healthcare is a data-intensive sector, it was no surprise to learn that core to many of these job requisitions was requiring workers to input, interpret, and analyze data. The most prominent skills in-demand include Excel and SQL, and have planning and project management know-how was in the top 5. With the acceleration of artificial intelligence, employers are equally looking for prospective workers to be remarkably talented in 21st-century skills, which are difficult to automate. In our analysis, the 21st-century skills in greatest demand for entry-level health IT roles are critical thinking, active listening, and speaking skills. Having a pulse on emerging skills—in collaboration with employer partners—is important for Essex County College as they consider how their diverse student body, many from low-income and racially minoritized communities, can build the skills they need to enter and advance in the health tech labor market.
Looking forward to Year 2, new programs are launching to attract more students to the sector. ECC is now offering courses like Healthcare IT Foundations. ECC is also engaging more intimately with industry organizations through the HIMSS Health+Tech Career Corner Conversation series, piloting experiential learning programs, and participating in an inaugural Social Determinants of Health Hackathon hosted by Cooper Healthcare System Innovation Center.
Based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 10-year industry and occupational projections for 2020-2030, HIMSS estimates nationally a healthcare information and technology workforce of 2.7 million people that will grow to 3 million people by 2030. High-population states, such as California, Texas, and Florida, are predicted to increase their Health IT workforce by 13%, 15%, and 18%, respectively.
New Jersey, the 4th smallest state by land, has the 11th largest population in the United States at nearly 9M and employs a workforce of 4.25 million people. The healthcare and social assistance sector accounts for $48.14 billion in 2022 GDP and represents the largest employment sector. For every 100 employed New Jerseyans, 14 work in healthcare roles. FOCUS NJ, an independent research non-profit conducting nonpartisan economic and workforce research, estimates that the NJ Healthcare IT and Admin sector has a workforce of 108,000 professionals growing to 123,000 professionals over ten years, a 12% growth rate.
The national talent gap has slowed the US economy as companies in many sectors, especially healthcare, need help recruiting and retaining employees with the necessary skills for various positions.
For many employers, part of the solution may lie in their communities. Essex County College —which offers a Health IT two-year associate of applied science degree and the industry credential CAHIMS — provides a solution for employers across the state. Viera comments, "While Essex County College is delivering the core knowledge that employers demand, our students need the translation of coursework to real-world learning experiences, such as internships and apprenticeships, and even low-cost, low-lift employer experiences like worksite tours and guest lecturers. These experiential learning opportunities are where we need help, and alliances, such as HIMSS, are critical to efficiently connecting us with the health IT professionals and hiring managers."
That's why broad investments in experiential learning programs from the private-sector digital health community are critical at this stage. A transformed system—one that invests in learners, provides the wraparound support they need to complete their education and training, and connects them with in-demand career pathways—is necessary to renew the healthcare technology infrastructure, to create quality high-tech jobs in growing areas of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and informatics, and to improve health outcomes of patients.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION
Community colleges - either urban or rural - attract first-generation college students and students from lower-income groups, and often they attract more women and minorities compared to four-year universities. Recruiting from community colleges can be an instrumental way for organizations to address diversity, equity, and inclusion. Still, it requires cooperation from Human Resources to rely less on university filtering of four-year bachelor's degrees. Every Healthcare DEI Officer should strategically champion with HR to recruit from community colleges and hire candidates with two-year degrees. Essex County College is a perfect example of a majority-minority institution, with minority enrollment at 89% of the student body (26% Hispanic, 41% Black), which is more than the state average of 56%. ECC is located in Newark, NJ, where the average household income is $51,880; however, it resides in an area that has the highest poverty rate in the state at 31.7% -- household pre-tax income of $25,926 for a family of four (two adults and two children).
According to HIMSS, which conducted a statewide analysis of early-career health IT job requisitions last year, the starting salary range was $59,000-$65,000. "In the NJ Pathways partnership with ECC, HIMSS New Jersey Corporate and Organizational Affiliates are uniquely positioned to recruit entry-level health IT talent affordably and locally while enabling these individuals to realize their full health potential through economic stability and family livable wages," says Dana Castro, Senior Director of the HIMSS Institute.
If you would like to get involved with any of the programs mentioned, don't hesitate to get in touch with HIMSS. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org