With an abundance of new medical construction projects in New Orleans, state and local officials hope the tens of thousands of new jobs projected for the health-services sector over the next decade will be a boom for the region's low- and middle-skilled workers.
New Orleans' profile as a health care destination has improved, a report says, thanks in large part to the $1.1 billion University Medical Center, which opened in 2015, and the $1 billion Veterans Affairs Medical Center, scheduled to be fully up-and-running this year.
The report, part of a series that examines labor demands in metro New Orleans' key industries, was produced by Greater New Orleans Inc. and funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, the state's largest health insurer.
"With roughly nearly 30,000 projected job openings by 2026 in greater New Orleans, the health-sciences sector provides enormous opportunity for well-paying employment in our region and growth of the middle class, if we can appropriately train our workforce for these jobs,” Michael Hecht, GNO Inc.'s president and CEO, said in a statement.
From 2007 to 2016, total employment in the area's health-sciences sector grew by 27 percent, a pace that beat the national growth rate of nearly 10 percent and surpassed New Orleans' numbers ahead of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the report said.
That rapid growth rate has been aided by Ochsner Health System's recent expansions, which have added more than 4,400 jobs in the past five years.
Additionally, Ochsner, the state's biggest nonprofit health care company, is in the midst of a $600 million expansion in Jefferson Parish that's slated to add 3,200 jobs, the report said.
All told, the report estimates the total number of people working in the region's health-sciences sector will surpass 91,500 people in a decade.
In that time, the sector is expected to grow 17 percent, the report said. Out of nearly 30,000 projected openings by 2026, almost half of them will be middle-skill positions, which largely do not require a bachelor's degree, the report said.
Such positions generally require some education or training beyond a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor's degree, the report said.
In some cases, applicable training may mean an associate's degree or previous on-the-job training, the report said. Those positions may include nursing or medical assistants, medical secretaries, pharmacy technicians or billing clerks.
On average, such middle-skills typically pay a median of $15.75 per hour, while positions that require a bachelor's degree — such as registered nurses and medical services managers — pay a median hourly average of $31.21, the report said.
On the upper end of the scale, positions that require a graduate degree can pay a median hourly average of $52.60, the report said.
"Almost half of all job openings over the next decade will be in middle-skill positions — those that do not require a bachelor’s or advanced degree," Hecht said in a letter included with the report. "These occupations offer viable opportunities for career advancement. We must be deliberate in highlighting these positions as key to supporting the vitality of the health sciences industry."