Preparing High School Students for Behavioral Health Careers

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Feb. 8, 2021 - Nationally, there is a labor market shortage of qualified behavioral health professionals. While one in five adults experience a mental illness each year, only 40% receive services. Additionally, while more than 10 million Americans struggle with substance use disorders, only 11% receive treatment, and projections show that by 2025 the deficit will be significantly worse. This workforce shortage is also apparent locally in Colorado. Of online job postings, an estimated one-third of vacancies are filled, leaving the behavioral health industry with an estimated two-thirds of open positions in need of workers. 

Increasing the number of behavioral health providers would not only fill significant workforce gaps, but allow more Coloradans to receive treatment and services. Additionally, careers in the behavioral health industry offer great opportunities for students and job seekers, with occupations that have high annual openings, an above average growth rate of 16.6% over 10 years, and median hourly wages of $23.88/hour. Examples of these occupations include entry level aides and technicians, therapists, psychologists, social workers, and addiction counselors.

Due to the demonstrated need for behavioral health professionals, and the career opportunities the industry provides, the CWDC, Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and the Colorado Office of Career and Technical Education (CTE) worked with state and local partners to develop the “Preparing Students for Behavioral Health Careers” resource to support the development of behavioral health career pathway programs in secondary schools. 

The resource outlines CTE and concurrent enrollment courses, potential work-based learning opportunities, funding streams and considerations, and continuing education and career options for students who participate in a behavioral health pathway program in high school. This resource can be utilized to inform and expose students to occupational opportunities and activities in the industry, and as a blueprint to develop a career pathway program leading to the entry level positions illustrated in the My Colorado Journey behavioral health career pathway

Progression of behavioral health high school programs leading to entry level careers

The CWDC, CDE, and CTE are hosting an informational webinar on Monday, Feb. 22 from 2 - 3 p.m. to share more details about the resource. The webinar is intended for high school and district representatives who are interested in developing behavioral health career pathway programs in secondary schools, though industry and public partners are welcome to attend. Register for the webinar

For questions about the resource or the webinar, or to learn more about engaging in these opportunities, please contact Kelly Mitchell at