New solutions are needed for Michigan's three lowest-ranked health professions
A four-year degree is not the right choice for everyone after high school. The three lowest-ranked occupations – Pharmacy Technicians, Nursing Assistants, and Dental Assistants – in MHC’s Michigan Healthcare Workforce Index (MHWI) are all occupations that require less than an associate’s degree. As a result, these occupations’ comparatively low educational requirements should make them ideal for individuals looking to find career opportunities outside of university education. However, these occupations also all earn between 27 and 45 percent less than the 2021 Michigan median wage ($22.00). For comparison, there are 148 other occupations in Michigan that require less than an associate’s degree but more than a high school diploma that earn at least the median hourly wage of $22.00, including several healthcare careers. Paramedics, Surgical Technologists, and Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses all require a comparable amount of education but earn significantly more.
Typical Entry-Level Education
Work Experience Required
Typical On-The-Job Training
2021 Median Hourly Wage
High school diploma or equivalent
Moderate-term on-the-job training
Postsecondary non-degree award
Postsecondary non-degree award
It is perhaps no surprise then that Pharmacy Technicians, Nursing Assistants, and Dental Assistants also rank in the top five of the MHWI for the largest absolute value shortage expected over the next ten years. Expected completions are low, and openings are high. Consequently, for these three occupations, it is critical to ask – how do you make the case to individuals considering a career path that these positions are desirable? The next generation of our labor force is being offered opportunities to train and educate themselves for a career while still in high school, and Dental Assistants, Nursing Assistants, and Pharmacy Technicians are not only very rarely a part of that training but also hard to make the case for due to their low wages. If these occupations provided prospects for career advancement through career pathways and skills development, then recruiting individuals might become a bit easier. Indeed, building more career pathways and apprenticeships could help individuals in high-growth, low-wage occupations stay in the healthcare workforce and advance.
Dental Assistants, Nursing Assistants, and Pharmacy Technicians are all critical occupations in the healthcare ecosystem, especially as our population ages and a greater number of individuals need care in the coming years. But without an overhaul to the talent pipeline, these occupations show no signs of matching the demand. Indeed, either significant wage growth or the development of career pathways and apprenticeships to further advance individuals into higher wage occupations that are more sustainable to a middle-class lifestyle will be essential to improving the health of the Dental Assistants, Nursing Assistants, and Pharmacy Technician workforce.