Shortage? Vacancies? Perceived Need?
Terminology employed by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (2005) may help in understanding this problem:
The perception that additional staff members are necessary in the absence of documentation to support the perception. A perceived need is simply the perception that more staff members are needed without evidence as to how many are needed. Fact: 71% of ASHA-certified school-based SLPs responding to ASHA's 2008 Schools Survey indicated that there was a shortage of qualified SLPs in their school district. This perceived need on the part of the survey respondents was not confirmed by any data (ASHA, 2008). The perception seems to be increasing as there was an increased perception from 68% of respondents in the 2006 Schools Survey and 62% in the 2004 Schools Survey. From 2004 to 2008, survey respondents from all types of communities (i.e., rural, suburban, and metropolitan or urban) reported that job openings exceeded job seekers. Respondents from the Mountain and Pacific areas of the country were more likely to indicate that job openings exceeded job seekers than respondents from the other areas of the country (ASHA, 2008).
When the demand for workers for a particular occupation is greater than the supply of workers who are qualified, available, and willing to do that job. Fact: Anecdotal information suggests that shortages of SLPs are present in some areas and in some employment settings. Specifically, shortages likely exist in urban and rural areas, in school settings, and for the provision of services to culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) populations. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which monitors the supply and demand for more than 800 occupations, in occupational projection estimates for 2004-2014, speech-language pathology ranked 17th out of the 20th large-growth occupations that usually require a master's, doctoral, or first-professional degree. The profession is expected to demonstrate average growth (reflecting an increase of 7% to 13%) through the year 2016. More information can be found at the Occupational Outlook Handbook for speech-language pathologists.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009 Edition, employment of speech-language pathologists is expected to grow 11 percent from 2006 to 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment in educational services will increase with the growth in elementary and secondary school enrollments, including enrollment of special education students. Federal law guarantees special education and related services to all eligible children with disabilities. Greater awareness of the importance of early identification and diagnosis of speech and language disorders in young children will also increase employment. The report also indicates that the combination of growth in the occupation and an expected increase in retirements over the coming years should create excellent job opportunities for speech-language pathologists. The report can be found at the Bureau of Labor Statistics's Web site.
In the Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs contracted with Westat to address concerns about nationwide shortages in the numbers of personnel serving students with disabilities and the need for improvement in the qualifications of those employed in those capacities (U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, 2002). Reports were based on weighted estimates drawn from interviews with 868 participating school-based SLPs and their local administrators. School administrators indicated that the greatest barrier to recruiting SLPs was "shortage of qualified applicants;" 59% of respondents reported this factor as having the greatest impact on shortages. The report further states that "perhaps of greater concern than current shortages is the potential for future shortages." It is estimated that 49% of SLPs are age 45 or older and will be eligible to retire over the course of the next 15 years. The eldest groups are in suburban and rural areas and the western regions of the United States. Another 5% plan to leave the profession as soon as possible due to other reasons. Additionally, "there are fewer SLPs available in the younger age groups to fill the anticipated age-related vacancies that will likely occur." ASHA's 2008 year-end count data indicated similar age and geographic factors. In ASHA's data, 47% of SLPs were 45 or older, and the oldest group was in the west, with a mean/median age of 47 years. More information can be accessed in the Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education. ASHA's year-end count data can be found at ASHA's membership profile.
The School Board News (Chmelynski, 2005) reported that schools are having a hard time finding enough speech-language pathologists. The report states that school districts across the country are experiencing severe shortages of SLPs. The demand is attributed to more children being diagnosed with speech impairments and a large increase in the number of disabilities that have accompanying speech and language disorders. Fewer SLPs are opting for school-based employment in favor of higher paying jobs in other settings, and, of course, the job is difficult, requiring an advanced degree and expertise in working with different populations.
A specific position of employment exists at an establishment; conditions include that (a) work is available for that position, (b) the job could start within 30 days, and (c) the employer is actively recruiting for the position. Fact: As of 2009, schools continue to report vacancies for SLPs. A study by the American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE) (2008) lists SLPs as ranking in the category of considerable shortage along with 13 other fields. Ten of the 14 fields were in the special education area. Of the 11 geographic regions surveyed, 7 fell in the "considerable shortage" category and no regions placed in the "balanced" or "surplus" areas in terms of supply of SLPs. The report can be found on the AAEE Web site.
A report in The Special Educator (LRP Publications, 1999) acknowledged that the existence of vacancies for SLPs in the schools is a serious nationwide problem requiring incentive programs and other innovative measures if these professionals are to be successfully recruited and retained. A survey in 1998 reported that almost half of working SLP graduates (48%) are employed in public or private schools but that hospitals are the preferred work setting of graduates (41%). Schools are the second most-preferred work setting (38%; Frederick Schneiders Research, 1998).
The Legislative Office of Education Oversight (1999) in Ohio reported that approximately one third of schools had difficulty filling SLP vacancies. Special education administrators reported that 19% of 106 districts had vacancies for SLPs in 1997. Of those districts reporting vacancies, 39% stated that in the previous 5 years it had taken more than 3 months to hire an SLP; 13% reported the delay to be 6 months. In the face of these vacancies, caseloads of current SLPs were increased, frequency and duration of sessions were reduced, and some children went unserved.
Also, a report on educator supply and demand in the state of Washington ranked SLPs as third highest in demand (Bergeson, Griffin& Douglas 2000).
The situation is further complicated when considering personnel providing services to special populations such as CLD children. For these children, "qualified" includes SLPs who provide culturally competent services and/or who can provide bilingual services. The numbers of students who are CLD and in need of services is disproportionate to the number of "qualified" SLPs who can provide these services.
A number of statewide vacancy surveys further indicate the extent of the SLP vacancy problem:
- The Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association (TSHA) published two surveys in November 2003 (TSHA Task Force on Public School Speech-Language Pathologists Survey Results, 2003). Over half (55%) of the respondents indicated unfilled full-time equivalent licensed SLP positions in 2003-2004. The percentage of unfilled vacancies ranged from 1% to 41%, averaging 4.5% across all districts. The percentage was highest in urban areas (5.6%), as compared with suburban (4.5%) and rural (4.1%) areas.
The effect of these vacancies was that, on average, 62% of districts contracted SLPs and/or hired speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs) during the 2003-2004 academic years. More SLPs were contracted and assistants were hired in urban districts (82%) than in suburban and rural areas (55%). SLPs and/or SLPAs were filling 25% of the vacancies. One third of the SLPAs were assigned to campuses, and 35% were assigned to licensed SLPs. This suggests that SLPAs were working without supervision by an SLP in certain schools.
Still another effect reported by a fifth (20%) of special education directors in the TSHA survey was that (a) they provided compensatory services for students who were not served due to staffing shortages, (b) most compensatory services were provided before or after school, and (c) there was an annual attrition rate of 16% reported for speech-language pathologists.
- The Washington State Speech and Hearing Association's October 2004 Task Force Report found that there were 187 advertised SLP vacancies in the 2003-2004 school years. Geographic areas with the greatest need were in both urban and rural areas. The report speculated that the 187 reported vacancies did not reflect unadvertised openings, because schools apparently may not have fully reported unfilled positions fearing that they would reveal unmet federal and state mandates. Additionally, 116 SLPs were eligible to retire from the public schools within the next 5 years.
- In the North Carolina Allied Health Vacancy Report released in May 2005, speech-language pathologists were reported as among the three professions with the largest number of job vacancies within the state. The report stated that 11% of vacancy ads in weekly job listings in newspapers for select allied health professions were for employment in schools. For the most part, job vacancies were distributed evenly across the state's Allied Health Education Center regions. Sign-on bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 were most commonly offered by large employers such as schools.