Sam Naser

Where the jobs are

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Recent employment reports from the Labor Department suggest the job market may be finding its footing after a tumultuous two-year slump that began in December 2007. In April, employers added 290,000 nonfarm jobs to the national payroll, the biggest monthly net gain in four years. That’s on top of the 162,000 added in March, marking two consecutive months of healthy job gains. And while two months of good news may be cold comfort given the eight million lost jobs since the recession began, it’s clear that the economy is now adding jobs, and doing so at a rate faster than the population is growing.

But there’s one industry that has consistently been adding jobs month after month, even through the deepest contractions of the recession. It’s health care, and for almost seven years now, it’s shown monthly increases in net employment without fail. Even as payrolls began to plummet in December 2007 and continued to hemorrhage every month through October 2009, shrinking the national nonfarm payroll by 5.24 percent, the healthcare industry skated through unabated, growing the industry’s employment by 4.81 percent.

It’s a seemingly unstoppable force operating as if entirely divorced from normal market trends. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine the healthcare industry’s momentum slowing anytime soon. In fact, the healthcare industry is projected to generate 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018, more than any other industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). What’s more, out of all the jobs that will be added to the economy through 2018, nearly one in four, or 22 percent, will be in health care.

A large part of the rapid, expected growth in health care can be attributed to the aging baby-boom generation. They will soon require more medical care, and as healthcare costs continue to rise, jobs in the industry will be in greater demand as work continues to be delegated to lower-paid workers to cut costs. The tasks previously shouldered by physical therapists, dentists and doctors are gradually being relegated to physical therapist assistants, dental hygienists and respiratory therapists. As such, growth is happening at all tiers of the healthcare labor market, from those holding doctorates to associate degrees. No wonder half of the 20 fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. economy are healthcare related, many of which require no more than an associate degree from an accredited community college program.

Physical therapist assistants and aides
About: Physical therapist aides are not required to earn a license and for the most part, have no postsecondary education and are trained on the job. On the other hand, nearly all physical therapist assistants earn an associate degree (A.A.) from a physical therapist assistant program accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Arizona, like most states, requires physical therapist assistants, by law, to hold at least an A.A. from an APTA-accredited program. Upon graduation from an accredited program, students are required to successfully pass the National Physical Therapy Examination before applying to the Arizona State Board of Physical Therapy for a license. If a student has graduated from an APTA-accredited program and successfully passes the exam, he or she can apply for a license for the title of a certified physical therapist assistant. The license must be renewed every even-numbered year to remain legally practicing.

Due to the increasing demand for therapeutic services, employment for physical therapist aides and assistants is expected to grow nationally by 35 percent from 2008 through 2018, making assistants the 11th and aides the 17th fastest-growing jobs. However, physical therapist aides are likely to experience less favorable job prospects than assistants, due to the keen competition resulting from the large number of individuals qualified to practice as aides. It is not uncommon for aides to advance to become therapist assistants after gaining clinical experience and graduating from an APTA-accredited program.

Where to go: Only one public school in Arizona offers a physical therapist assistant program accredited by the APTA. It is Gateway Community College (GCC), which offers its program at their campus in Mesa. An associate degree in GCC’s physical therapist assistant program requires students to complete 73 to 77 credits.

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