12/31/2013 03:50 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2014

New Year, New Jobs

Thanks to several key trends in aging and health care, one of the fastest-growing jobs in 2014 is expected to be that of the home health aide. Each year, more and more of us count on these aides to come into our home or the home of a loved one to provide the care, comfort and companionship needed to age safely in place and stay out of the hospital.

Trained home health aides are skilled, compassionate caregivers who work on the front lines of health care for vulnerable seniors and others who may not be stable enough to be on their own. Demand is rising as Baby Boomers age, with the number of Americans age 65 and over skyrocketing from 40 million people in 2010 to 72 million in 2030. The vast majority of seniors report wanting to age at home, and many suffer from one or more chronic diseases.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that over the next decade, we as a nation will need to add 1.3 million home health aides to the workforce -- an increase of 70 percent over 2010. That is like adding to the rolls a population greater than that of New York City's public school students (1.1 million).

Aides are often part of a nurse-led care team that helps keep at-risk individuals safe and as comfortable as possible in the place where they most want to be -- their homes. Aides help with cooking, dressing, laundry, bathing, toileting and other activities of daily living. They also can help clients manage medications and follow other plans of care that include special diet or exercise.

Because a home health aide's chief task is to know the client's routines, understand his or her usual behaviors and monitor for subtle changes, this well-trained set of eyes and a caring set of hands can make all the difference in an elder's health and well-being. When Valma Miller heard her 83-year-old client crying one night but claiming in the morning that she was fine, Valma let the nurse know and took her client to the doctor. She was diagnosed with water around the heart and could have died had Valma not been so attentive.

Supply and Demand
There is robust demand on both sides of the home health aide equation: potential clients needing a qualified aide to help them with daily living and potential workers looking for training and entry level jobs in a growing industry, especially during a sluggish economy.

From 2008 to 2010, when the private sector was largely shedding jobs, the number of home health aides employed in the U.S. increased by 10.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the company where I work, we increased the number of home health aides we employed by a remarkable 58 percent since 2008. In 2014, we expect to hire about 370 new home health aides a month -- or about 12 each day -- in order to meet demand.

The need for home health aides goes well beyond the numbers. We need the right people: well-trained, fairly compensated and given the tools, opportunities and support to advance in health care fields. We as an industry must train them not only so they can perform an excellent job on the front lines of day-to-day health care, but also so they have a stake in being part of the solution for our aging population. Strategies include increasing specialty training so aides have expertise in providing customized care for people with diabetes, dementia, multiple sclerosis or other illnesses, as well as developing career advancement in the health care field.

As we look ahead to the future of our aging nation, home health aides will be vital to quality of care and quality of life. Any given day you can see the care at work in homes and apartments across the city and across the country. Stop by the Staten Island home of 96-year-old Roselyn Peters, for example, who suffers from congestive heart failure, hypertension and glaucoma, and you'll find home health aide Stephanie Titus carefully recording Mrs. Peters' blood pressure, helping her manage 15-plus medications, and keeping her good company. "We talk about everything -- her family, what's on TV, what goes on at the doctor's, her past," says Stephanie. "Whatever she wants to talk about we talk about."