Franciscan Health nurses

Registered nurse Samantha Hall works earlier this year at the emergency room nurses station at Franciscan Health in Munster. The health care field in general, and nursing  in particular, are in need of more practitioners, according to a forum held Friday at Ivy Tech.

John J. Watkins, The Times

VALPARAISO — If you need a job, look to health care.

That was the message at Friday's 2017 Business & Economic Outlook seminar, where some of the presenters outlined the labor shortages in the field.

"I'm glad I'm not 65 right now," Zachary Cattell, president of the Indiana Health Care Association, which represents skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, said at the event at Ivy Tech Community College. "The shortages we have in the health care workforce that will start in three, five, seven, 10 years are daunting."

As the baby boomer population ages, Indiana faces a dearth of professionals in a variety of health care specialties. But what might be bad for patients in the short term is an opportunity for Hoosiers looking for work or a new career.

"There are really good-paying jobs out there if you want to gain some skills and improve your value proposition as an individual," said Don Babcock, director of economic development for NIPSCO. He said health care is "not just a great career financially, it's a noble career, to help people around you."

In Indiana, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants have the greatest number of openings and are the hardest jobs to fill in health care, Cattell said. The projected growth in the number of health care jobs over the next five years is 13.5 percent in central Indiana alone, he said.

"There's no doubt that licensed nursing and certified nurses' aides are the biggest need in our centers, in hospitals and physician offices across the state," he said. "There just are not enough people out there to fill these jobs."

In general, he said, a nurse right out of school can earn a salary of $50,000 and get up to $60,000 quickly. He said a nurse director or quality assurance job can make in the $80,000- to $90,000-a-year range.

Cattell said there are too many nursing homes in the state but there aren't enough workers to staff them.

"We are working diligently in attracting, educating and retaining a skilled workforce," he said, including through its carefortheaging.org website. Other potential solutions include training certified nursing assistants online and increasing the number of health care apprenticeships.

In addition, the state, through its Next Level Jobs initiative, is investing $20 million over the next two years in job training opportunities throughout Indiana. One area it is looking to prepare workers for is health care.

Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann said her school is doing its part — but it's still not enough. She noted that her school credentials about 1,200 registered nurses a year, but there are more than 1,900 openings in that field annually (there are 2,486 in the state currently).

She said she may need to ask the state to ease its requirements for training nurses or for funding to educate more of them.

"It costs $10,000 for us to produce a nurse," she said. "They make $60,000 to $70,000 (a year). There's high demand."

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Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.