Public Health Job Vacancies - Who Wants What, Where?

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper presents a snapshot of job vacancies in the public health workforce labour market. The analysis is based on 404 advertised public health jobs appearing in the press, and on-line job alerts over a 2-month period in mid 2003. The analysis reveals who was seeking employees, what formal qualifications and competencies were required, what salary and other conditions of employment were offered and where the vacant jobs were located. The study demonstrates the heterogeneity of the public health workforce, which limits definition of clear practice boundaries and complicates workforce planning. The findings further demonstrate the benefit of reviewing both the demand and the supply side of the labour market, and point to the value of repeated surveys of advertised jobs as part of an ongoing public health workforce monitoring and planning process.

Aust Health Rev 2005: 29(2): 226-234

MOST OF THE PUBLISHED STUDIES of health workforce training, planning activities and health labour market analysis are concerned with relatively well defined and identifiable categories of health service personnel such as doctors, nurses and dental practitioners.1-5 Rotem et al reviewed the education and training of the public health workforce in Australia.6,7 As part of this exercise, the authors faced the challenge of delineating the boundaries of the public health workforce. They defined the public health workforce as including:

People who are involved in protecting [promoting and/or restoring] the collective health of whole or specific populations (as distinct from activities directed to the care of individuals)6 (page 5).

Using this definition the researchers found a workforce composed of personnel from a wide range of professional/occupational backgrounds, mostly performing one major function but generally also involved in a number of other roles. They noted that each function required the exercise of some specific expertise, which was not always associated with the primary occupational designation or training of the staff employed. The Rotem et al study6 provided useful information regarding the training of and current activities being performed by the public health workforce and pointed to some deficiencies in training programs. It did not, however, directly address the question of how well the training met the specific requirements of employers.

Since this 1995 study, a number of attempts have been made to identify competencies necessary for the performance of rather broadly defined public health functions in Australia (see, for instance, Houghton et al8 and the Ontario Health Association report9). Although these efforts provided some assistance to designers of training programs,10 they did not provide a full indication of what employers were seeking. A review ol projection methods for estimating demand for the public health workforce commissioned by the National Public Health Partnership (NPHP) identified similar difficulties.11 The consultants attributed the definitional and classification difficulties associated with the public health workforce to the wide variety of occupational groups engaged in public health; the lack of clear boundaries between these professional categories; the absence of professional credentialling requirements; and the lack of formal public health training for most of the people working in this area. The consultants also noted the wide range of organisations contributing to public health services and the complexity and diversity in the range of initiatives covered by public health.11

Previous studies of the public health workforce conducted in Australia and the United States have relied on surveys of students and graduates,6'12 surveys of employers,6·12 review of departmental personnel records13 and interviews with panels of experts.6 The present study attempts to record the labour market more accurately through study of the recruitment of personnel in the public health workforce. …