The demand for laboratory workforce is expected to grow slowly over the next few years, but the industry is suffering a shortage due to a number of factors. Let’s take a closer look at the current laboratory workforce shortage. We’ll also look at a few potential solutions.
The Hard Numbers
The BLS expects the demand for medical lab technologists to grow 13% over the next ten years. However, a third fewer people are graduating than would be needed to fill these jobs. Nor can the matter be solved by increasing enrollment at standard brick and mortar schools due to the closure of a quarter of lab training programs since 1990. This is where online training programs like the University of Cincinnati’s medical laboratory science program will be critical to closing the gap. Better awareness of programs like this is certainly more likely to fill the gap than efforts to solve the issue by automation or restricting access to the services.
The Gray Wave
The aging of Baby Boomers is impacting the lab workforce shortage in several ways. One is the retirement of many older lab workers, worsening the shortage. The second is that an aging population demands more medical services, including diagnostic tests performed by lab workers.
The growth of apps and do it yourself kits don’t entirely eliminate the need for sending bodily fluid and tissue samples to the lab for analysis by a human. Automation has not eliminated the need for human lab workers; instead, it has meant that the need for lab workers has had to increase slowly while the average person has far more blood tests done on a regular basis.
We mentioned that new technologies like test strips bought over the counter or tests done using apps and a snapshot via a smartphone don’t eliminate the need for human lab techs. In fact, the ability to readily test for many more things at home or in the doctor’s office leads to more demand for full lab tests to confirm results.
The advancements in technology are also impacting the lab workforce shortage. As the equipment and software used to run lab tests become more advanced, employees must engage in continual education through programs offered by the University of Cincinnati Online to simply keep up. You cannot expect to rely on a pipette, slide, and microscope to do the job anymore.
The relatively new field of proteomics (the study of how proteins interact) and genetics enabled by advances in computing, as well as the promise these scientific fields to solve so many problems, is generating demand for lab techs to fill support roles. Then there is the more mundane demand for genetic tests for purposes of genealogy and routine paternity testing because the prices of these tests have been coming down.
Demand for laboratory tests is soaring and automation cannot quite keep up. For those who choose to learn how to work in the lab, they will enjoy a bright future and potentially advance science itself because of the sheer number of fields calling for their skillset.