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Alarming Workforce Gap in Mental and Behavioral Health Careers

Valley Vision held our anticipated advisory on Mental and Behavioral Health careers on September 21st. The purpose was to convene employers, industry representatives, and partners to dive into the hiring needs and trends within the industry. Most significant from the advisory was the challenging gap in meeting the increasing demand for professionals. A workforce gap existed pre-pandemic, however, with its onset the need for qualified personnel has surged. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, an industry expert expressed, “There aren’t enough in the world. Demand has skyrocketed since the pandemic. I wish we had a gigantic army that could meet the need.”

The event featured Ebony Benzing, Interim Director of the North (Greater Sacramento) Center of Excellence for Labor Market Research, presenting labor market information that revealed a striking demand for Mental and Behavioral Health Jobs (MBH) professionals in various job categories. In 2022, the Greater Sacramento region boasted over 25,000 jobs, with projections indicating a 14% growth rate by 2027. Job postings in the Greater Sacramento region have risen by 22% in the last 12 months, with more than 6,954 job postings. The growth is particularly pronounced in entry-level and paraprofessional roles, and psychiatric technicians. There is a significant gap between the number of jobs available and the number of students receiving related certifications and degrees (1,452) indicating a pressing need for educational and training programs to address this shortage of skilled professionals.

The event included two keynote speakers; Christie Gonzales, Chief Program Officer at WellSpace Health, and Anne Powell from Health Care Access & Information (HCAI). Gonzales emphasized the importance of hiring individuals with lived experiences from the community to provide equitable healthcare. She stated personal disclosure is valued in this field and allows practitioners to bring a unique perspective and understanding to their work.

Powell’s keynote on Behavioral Health Workforce Opportunities detailed initiatives that include expanding educational capacity, providing scholarships and loan repayment for aspiring health professionals, and supporting institutions dedicated to strengthening the mental healthcare workforce pipeline. HCAI, which supports diverse health workforce initiatives that serve underserved areas, is also launching a certified wellness coach position to provide behavioral health support to children and youth.
To dive deeper into the hiring needs of the MBH workforce, Valley Vision convened an employer panel of industry professionals, which included

Jessie Armenta, Clinical Director, La Familia Counseling Center
Christie Gonzales, Chief Program Officer, WellSpace Health
Shanine Coats, Director, Sacramento County Office of Education
Emilio Licea III, Behavioral Health Manager l Consortium Director, Kaiser
Jeneba Lahai, Executive Director, Yolo County Children’s Alliance

Throughout the panel discussion, one theme became clear: valuing individuals with lived experiences from their respective communities should be at the forefront of mental behavioral workforce initiatives. To develop a skilled workforce from within the local community, panelists emphasized the need to expand MBH careers beyond traditional roles like psychiatrists. The panelists highlighted the significance of early engagement and talent cultivation, describing volunteer and internship opportunities for individuals in high school and beyond, to foster interest and develop a skilled workforce from within the local community.

Along with this, panelists emphasized the significance of relationship-building and practical communication skills, particularly in multidisciplinary and community-based settings. The employers also described the need to meet administrative demands and emphasized the importance of organization, basic accounting, and notetaking skills. Additionally, they shared common challenges in the field such as burnout, and the need for creating healthy boundaries and utilizing effective time management.

The advisory concluded with a discussion about the importance of career exposure and highlighted various local onramp, career education programs focusing on mental and behavioral health careers. Free, short-term career education programs offered by the Yolo County Office of Education provide introductory training in areas such as Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions, Community Health Worker, Social Work, and Human Service Skills. Additionally, Sacramento Employment Training Agency (SETA) offers paid training programs for adults with lived experiences, preparing them for entry-level positions in the field. Kaiser Permanente also offers training programs and paid internships for college and high school students interested in pursuing a career in mental health.

In addition to the advisory bringing to light specific information about the significant workforce challenges, the event served as a collaborative space for state officials, employers, educators, and partners to discuss existing opportunities to help bridge the gap. By working together to support and invest in these programs, individuals, organizations, and local employers can develop the diverse and skilled workforce needed to meet the growing demand, ensuring accessible and quality mental and behavioral health services for us all.