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Building a Recruitment and Retention Plan

Recruitment and Retention Toolkit   Building a Recruitment and Retention Plan   How the Challenges of the Behavioral Health Workforce Affect Recruitment and Retention [2.1.0.c]

How the Challenges of the Behavioral Health Workforce Affect Recruitment and Retention [2.1.0.c]

The Workforce: A Shrinking Talent Pool

The combination of staff retirement, high turnover, and an increased demand for behavioral health staff is having a significant impact on service provision. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 10,000 people a day are leaving the general workforce. Not enough people are entering the behavioral health field to fill present jobs. The problem will only increase, as a wave of retirement by 76 million workers from the Baby Boomer generation is expected by 2015. Adding to the complexity of this situation is a projected increase in behavioral health care staff positions and a strained infrastructure.[1]

Projected Increase in Behavioral Health Care Staff Positions

In 2008, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its 10-year forecast for the hottest careers,[2] behavioral health care occupations made up 5 of the top 30 listed. Projected increases ranged from 29.8% to more than 34% in the following positions:
  • The number of substance abuse and behavioral health counselors needed may increase from 83,000 in 2006 to an estimated 112,000 in 2016 (a 34.4% increase).
  • The number of social and human service assistants needed may increase from 339,000 in 2006 to 453,000 in 2016 (a 33.6% increase).
  • The number of mental health counselors needed may increase from 100,000 in 2006 to 130,000 in 2016 (a 30% increase).
  • The number of mental health and substance abuse social workers needed may increase from 122,000 in 2006 to 159,000 in 2016 (a 29.9% increase).
  • The number of marriage and family therapists needed may increase from 25,000 in 2006 to 32,000 in 2016 (a 29.8% increase).
Workforce surveys conducted by the ATTC Regional Centers over a period of time provide a snapshot of the addictions treatment workforce. To review the surveys relative to your area go to

Strained Infrastructure

According to Strengthening Professional Identity: Challenges of the Addictions Treatment Workforce,[3] a sound infrastructure must be in place to ensure the presence of a skilled workforce ready to meet the needs of those requiring alcohol or illicit drug treatment. Presently, this strained and interconnected system is confronted with:
  • Staff shortages. The addictions treatment capacity is insufficient and, therefore, inadequate to serve those in need. Compounding this issue is the retirement of addiction leaders.
  • High turnover. Organizations are in a constant state of recruitment.
  • Low salaries and minimal benefits. Johnson, Knudsen, & Roman (2002) reported that the average counselor salaries were low and only increased from $29,767 to $34,125 in the decade from 1992-2002, or about 2 percent per year. Low salaries are a barrier to recruitment.
  • High workloads. Staff shortages are contributing to the high workload.
  • No uniform educational standards and no defined career paths. Training programs preparing substance abuse prevention and treatment specialists lack uniform standards.
  • Stigma. Addictions treatment struggles to be recognized as a field providing vital health care for a life-threatening chronic disease. The negative perceptions attached to addictions are detrimental to treatment organizations’ recruitment and retention efforts.
  • Inadequate incentives. There are few incentives offered to those considering entering the addictions treatment field.
  • Lack of resources and professional development opportunities. More than 20 percent of early career members had little or no access to instructional materials or currently published literature.
  • Discrepancies between gender, age, and race of workforce compared to clients. Differences between the practitioner and client may impact treatment outcomes.
  • Insufficient funding. Providers often do not have the infrastructure to prioritize training, provide regular salary increases, and make technology improvements, much less expand service provision and implement evidence-based practices.
  • Undefined career paths. The addictions treatment field lacks defined career paths that incorporate core competencies and provide credibility to the field. The field also lacks professional development and advancement opportunities. Career paths support retention efforts and help individuals progress to leadership positions.

Additional Workforce Development Reports from SAMHSA for AOD and Recovery Segments

Partners for Recovery supported the development of two reports on workforce development in the areas of retention and recruiting of the addiction workforce. The first report, "Addictions Treatment and Recovery Workforce Retention and Promising Practices Pilot Study" explores retention strategies among facilities with low turnover rates. The second report, "Informing Marketing Strategies for Recruitment into the Addictions Treatment Workforce" summarizes the findings from the seven focus groups convened to respond to a need to develop recruitment and marketing messages for the addictions treatment recovery field. Additional workforce development reports can be found at Partners for Recovery.

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Program (2008). Tomorrow's Jobs. Retrieved February 26, 2009, from Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition Web site:
[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Program (2006). Occupational Projections and Training Data. Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Employment Projections 2006 - 2016 Web site:
[3] Abt Associates. (2007). Strengthening Professional Identity: Challenges of the Addictions Treatment Workforce, Rockville: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)/DHHS.

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