Health care top choice in career poll: Student interest in technology jobs holds steady, state survey finds

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Recent results from an annual survey show health services remains the most popular career choice among Indiana high-school juniors planning to go to college.

The questionnaire was administered by Learn More Indiana, an effort to promote college and career planning supported by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, as well as a few other state agencies.

Learn More Indiana has existed for about 20 years, but had been known as the Indiana College Admissions and Placement Center before the arrival of the Gov. Mitch Daniels administration.

Results from the past three years give health services the edge over arts, audio/video technology and communications. In the latest query, 21.8 percent of the 40,775 juniors surveyed expressed interest in a health care career compared with 17.7 percent who chose arts and communications.

Science, engineering and technology finished third, holding steady at about 11 percent the past three years.

Interest in the health care field historically has ranked high among the nation’s youth. But the trend among Hoosier students could bode well for the state, particularly given a time when the delivery of health care in general is receiving so much scrutiny, said Mike Brooks, president and CEO of the Indiana Health Industry Forum.

“I have no doubt there will be substantial opportunities and career paths in the health industries,” he said. “It is incumbent upon us to give young people the opportunity to meet the demand of what we have here across the state.”

Developing the proper training to deliver the services must be achieved first, Brooks said, before health care providers can compete to attract top talent.

The nursing shortage in particular has been well-documented. Sigma Theta Tau International, the Indianapolis-based honor society for nursing, launched late last year a free program intended to lessen the shortage by spurring some of central Indiana’s inactive nurses to return to work.

Besides the obvious jobs, the health services category in the Learn More Indiana survey contains a wide swath of careers ranging from speech pathology to podiatry to veterinary medicine.

According to the survey, the number of students contemplating a job in health care has increased 1.5 percentage points the past three years, from 20.3 percent in 2005 to 21.8 percent this year.

In contrast, interest in another emerging sector-science, engineering and technology-has remained flat the past three years at about 11 percent. That’s despite efforts by government leaders to create a life sciences hub here that could help stem the so-called brain drain.

Out of 14 career clusters, science, engineering and technology finished a solid third. Yet, the results are disappointing to Ron Brumbarger, chairman of Techpoint and CEO of Carmel-based Web developer Bitwise Solutions Inc.

“It’s certainly not the numbers we want to see,” he said. “The demand for those positions continues to be enormous. I hear nobody saying they have too many people.”

Brumbarger’s lectures to college students typically elicit responses from many who aspire to be video game designers-a trend he finds disturbing.

“Maybe [technology’s] just not as sexy as it once was,” Brumbarger said, “but the demand is not going to go away.”

Techpoint hosted its 10th Indiana Technology Summit Nov. 9 and is crafting its own study the trade association hopes will gauge the needs of employers as well as the interests of college graduates. Results should be available early next year.

Sometimes it may take special circumstances to get youngsters interested in certain types of careers. When the hit television drama “CSI” burst on the scene, interest in law-enforcement jobs spiked, said Cheryl Orr, associate commissioner at the Commission for Higher Education.

All 437 public and private schools in the state received copies of the survey, of which 72 percent participated. The figure represents a respectable jump from the 63 percent that took part last year.

Besides juniors, the survey also is given to freshmen to gauge career interests and college-access needs, and to measure the progress of local career and college counseling programs. Participation is voluntary.

“I don’t think a lot of people know about this information,” Orr said. “It’s been used a lot by schools to see how many kids have a plan for after high school.”

School participation is increasing, however, due to Learn More Indiana’s efforts to raise awareness. The survey is discussed several times with school counselors during the summer and early fall, and a new packaging and distribution plan drew added attention to the survey’s arrival.

Sixty-eight percent of freshmen said they would most likely attend a four-year college, compared with 72 percent of juniors graduating in 2008.

In reality, the percentage earning a bachelor’s degree is much lower-22.6 percent, according to a 2005 report from the U.S. Census Bureau. That ranks Indiana 42nd in the nation and ahead of only Kentucky when compared with neighboring states.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development plans to use the results to create initiatives that might help the agency better serve the public, said Andrea Maurer, DWD’s program coordinator for the career and technical education division.

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