Friday, October 10, 2014

The Pharmacist Glut

Back in the 90s, word went out that there was a college program that all but guaranteed graduates a good job: pharmacy. In 2000 government actuaries estimated that 6,000 pharmacist jobs were vacant across the country, and predicted a shortfall of 157,000 across the next 20 years. In the early 2000s, D.Pharm. graduates were in such demand that they were being offered six figure salaries and signing bonuses that included cars.

But, as Katie Zavadski explains, it didn't last:
Over the last 20-odd years, the number of pharmacy schools in the United States has almost doubled. There were just 72 such schools in 1987; today, there are more than 130.

At first, graduates found work easily. No matter where in the country a young pharmacist wanted to settle, the number of jobs available far exceeded the number of people qualified to fill them. Slowly, the numbers began to even out, and 2009 marked a turning point: The number of jobs available was roughly on par with the number of pharmacists searching for work. The days of signing bonuses and vast job choices were over.

According to the Aggregate Demand Index (ADI), which measures pharmacist job outlooks, employers in the Northeast began reporting more job candidates than slots in December 2011. Quickly, everywhere from Hawaii to Utah became a tough market. Now, only about ten states have decent employment prospects, with enough openings for every job seeker. In the rest of the country, pharmacists are seeing either a surplus of candidates, or a rough balance of supply and demand.

This would not be a problem if there were not so many new pharmacists in the pipeline. . . . "My estimate [is] 20 percent unemployment of new grads by 2018," Daniel Brown, a pharmacy professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2013. "The job market is [stagnant], but we're still pumping out graduates every year.”
I consider this an object lesson in the mismatch between what young Americans want and what our society offers. Most people don't want to be perpetually self-inventing free agents, marketing their own brands. They want safe, stable jobs at good wages. Many are willing to study hard in school, provided they are guaranteed such jobs on graduation. What pains young people is the lack of any obvious path from where they are now to a middle-class life. Any career with really good job prospects is quickly overwhelmed with applicants; we saw this with law school a decade ago, and now pharmacy and microbiology.

Not that there aren't still jobs; things aren't that bad. It's the lack of clear career paths that troubles many people. As the world becomes in some ways more free, it also becomes more uncertain for everyone.


Unknown said...

"Most people don't want to be perpetually self-inventing free agents, marketing their own brands."

Amen to that!

G. Verloren said...

The problem is that our college and university system is profit oriented, rather than "future"-oriented. The focus is on making money, not on preparing people for the future, both on an individual and national scale.

Our schools are businesses, and they're all too willing to sell young and impressionable people economically useless degrees. What happens to a graduate once they stop paying tuition isn't a concern for our schools (unless a particular graduate becomes wildly successful, in which case they hound their former charge for "generous donations" and other tablescraps.) You want to become a [vocation]? "Sign right here, please, payments are due on the first of every month. Nevermind that the labor market for [vocation] is abyssmal and only going to get worse in the next ten years - that's your problem, not ours!"

It practically makes one pine for a revival of the apprenticeship system in some form or another, where there are only as many positions as there are expected future job openings. The difference, of course, is that when an industry is training its own future employees, it is in the industry's own best interests not to glut the labor pool. But no such self interest exists for schools - they're motivation is to sell as many degrees as possible, whether its gluts other industries or not. They are financially incentivized to exploit and harm their own students and the industries that rely on them.