James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor

If a profession were going to grow so much it could dominate certain employment sectors in the near future, it would only make sense to start focusing more on that profession, wouldn’t it? Ding! The gold star of the day then is a no-brainer.

It goes to PHI, the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, which just upgraded its website to include loads of helpful information about the direct-care workforce. Long-term care operators and managers would do well to give the PHI State Data Center a look.

The data center will give you a good idea what each state’s average is for wages, benefits, training requirements and more. Projected employment growth and legislative and regulatory developments are also detailed.

This isn’t just an under-leveraged group whining on behalf of relatively low-wage workers. This is a clearinghouse of information being offered about your biggest employee group. If you aren’t interested, then you might want to worry that your competitors are.

Hiring enough qualified nurse aides, home health aides and personal care aides is already difficult. The demand for even more of them is expected to skyrocket in the coming decade.

So important is this group, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has supported the data center’s upgrade, along with the National Direct Service Workforce Resource Center and a grant from The SCAN Foundation.

“Thousands of stakeholders have already turned to the PHI State Data Center for state profiles of the direct-care workforce,” reports PHI Associate Director of Policy Research Abby Marquand. “We expect interest in this type of information to continue to surge as the need for these essential workers continues to grow.”

The PHI State Data Center compiles and analyzes the most recent data from sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics and Employment Projections Programs.

Reports show that the direct-care workforce is projected to be the nation’s largest occupational grouping by 2020 — that’s less than seven years away.

Look at it another way: Direct-care occupations will outnumber all retail sales workers, as well as all teachers from kindergarten through high school.

Will you be ready?