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Health care industry dominates job market

Debra Erdley
| Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, 7:03 p.m.
The Highmark sign sits atop Fifth Avenue Place in downtown Pittsburgh on Jan. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Highmark sign sits atop Fifth Avenue Place in downtown Pittsburgh on Jan. 11, 2018.
The UPMC sign sits atop the U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh on Jan. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The UPMC sign sits atop the U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh on Jan. 11, 2018.
Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, one of three hospitals operated by the health system.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, one of three hospitals operated by the health system.
Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh's North Side.
Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh's North Side.

It happened here first.

Federal employment numbers from December 2017 suggest health care is now the dominant employer in the United States, surpassing the number of jobs in the manufacturing and retail sectors.

That mirrors a development first noted in Western Pennsylvania decades ago, said Christopher Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research.

“For the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area, just health care employment exceeded manufacturing employment for the first time in 1992,” Briem said.

When “eds and meds” are added to the equation, the reversal happened sometime in the early 1980s, Briem added, referring to the era when Western Pennsylvania lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs to foreign competition.

It's hard to off-shore health care, as evidenced by recent announcements of the expansion at UPMC, Allegheny Health Network and, in Westmoreland County, Excela Health System's recent debut of a $40 million new medical mall in Unity .

Such developments reflect U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' projections that list five health care titles among the 10 fastest-growing jobs in the United States over the next decade. The bureau had projected that health care would be the nation's top employer, but not until 2026.

Stephen Foreman, an associate professor of health care administration at Robert Morris University, was not surprised.

“I think the BLS projections for 2026 underestimate health care employment. The leading edge of boomers just hit 70. And demand is up based on the ACA and Medicaid expansion,” he said.

Nationally, growth in health care employment coincided with the downturn in manufacturing and retail, where off-shoring and online shopping led to the loss of jobs.

Faced with turnover from a rapidly graying workforce and the challenge of expansion, health care employers in Western Pennsylvania are always looking to fill jobs from entry-level positions in food services to IT, nursing, physician specialties and accounting.

UPMC, the region's health care behemoth and the state's largest private employer, reported revenues of $14 billion in fiscal 2017.

And UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff, who launched the health system's expansion three decades ago, has vowed to make it “the Amazon of health care.” The health system boasts more than 30 hospitals and a health insurance company that employs about 80,000 people in facilities from Pittsburgh to Williamsport.

Late last fall, Romoff announced a $2 billion plan to build three new specialty hospitals in Pittsburgh as well as a partnership with Microsoft to develop new health care technologies.

Economists said ventures such as that, coupled with university health science research, bring new money into the region.

Matthew Rimer, vice president of talent acquisition at UPMC, said the health system typically quotes a 6 percent year-over-year growth rate. As of Thursday, he said UPMC had 3,000 job openings system-wide. About 1,500 of those jobs, 90 percent of which are in Western Pennsylvania, are posted on its career link website .

The Allegheny Health Network, which employs 17,000 people at seven hospitals and ancillary facilities, and Excela Health, which employs 5,000 at three Westmoreland County hospitals and related facilities, also are looking to hire.

Laurie English, chief human relations officer at Excela, said the health system, which lists job openings online , will hold a job fair Saturday at the Ramada Inn in Hempfield, where it hopes to recruit for a wide range of positions from registered nurses to food service workers. English said Excela added about 130 jobs to its employment numbers last year through the acquisition of a home health company and several physician practices.

UPMC's local competitor, Allegheny Health Network, which employs 17,000 workers across the region, likewise is on an expansion march.

Last fall, Highmark Health and AHN announced a $1 billion expansion plan that included a new 160-bed hospital in the North Hills, the renovation of existing facilities and the construction of four neighborhood hospitals, including one in Hempfield. Officials said the expansion would bring 700 new jobs to the area.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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