The Shift from Factories to Hospitals


Factories Fading, Hospitals Step In – WSJ

It's inevitable — as manufacturing jobs decline and our population ages, more people will shift from manufacturing jobs into healthcare. (Free version of article here)

BANGOR, Maine — In this aging manufacturing region, where old-line industries like paper factories are falling away, health care has emerged as the employer of last resort.

Between 1998 and 2007, the Bangor metropolitan area (pop. 150,000) lost about 3,700 jobs in manufacturing, but gained 3,500 jobs in health care. For many residents in Bangor, the hospital is replacing the mill as the passport to the middle class. For others, it means lower wages and fewer opportunities to advance.

This trend holds true nationwide — healthcare hiring has made up for manufacturing job losses:

Indeed, while the number of manufacturing jobs nationwide fell by 48,000 in March and by 310,000 over the past 12 months, health-care employment rose by 23,000 last month and is up 363,000 jobs on the year, according to the government's most recent data.

The article highlights a former paper mill employee, Steve Arsenault, who at 51 years old, is now working as a certified surgical technologist — but is making about $5 an hour less than he did before.

The transition requires a good amount of retraining, leading to significant pay decreases in the meantime, as highlighted in the case of this former factory worker:

While some former factory workers find new opportunities in health care, the switch doesn't work for everyone. In 1980, just out of high school, Randy Tompkins started working in a shoe factory. A few years later, he switched to Eastern Fine Paper and worked there for 19 years, until the mill shut down.

A new father with a mortgage, Mr. Tompkins was anxious to find work and decided to look for a health-care job. “You can't seem to go around any corner and not see something health-care related: a hospital, a nursing home, a doctor's office,” he says.

After six months of classes at Eastern Maine Community College, he became a certified nursing assistant, a job that paid just $7.75 an hour, half of what he was making at the mill, and with no benefits. He eventually was accepted in the school's registered-nursing program, but says he couldn't maintain a C average. Now, Mr. Tompkins is looking for a new career: This fall he plans to start taking classes in computer integrated machining.

The days of a high school graduate walking into a relatively high-paying job are over… that's probably not news to anyone, is it?

I'll also make the pitch to Lean professionals who currently work in factories. If you're bored or looking or a new challenge — try to engage with your local hospital. Your process improvement, coaching, and leadership skills are probably more transferable than you might think. They might not have a “Lean job” but maybe you can convince them to create one. Our hospitals need a lot of help.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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