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Three groups must jointly develop the workforce

July 1, 2010
by Nicholas A. Roes, PhD
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“Now is the time for the addiction treatment field to rally our efforts for talent management,” says Kathleen Caggiano-Siino, executive deputy commissioner of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). After a brief review of some relevant statistics, it looks like the time is now or never.

Part of the problem is that, compared to the need, there is hardly any talent to manage. For example, Ohio officials estimate that more than one million people in the state need addiction treatment, but the public system is able to serve only 90,000.1 Studies show that about 30 percent of addiction professionals are eligible to retire, while the demand for addiction professionals and licensed treatment staff with graduate-level degrees is projected to increase by 35 percent in 2010.2

The research evidence is overwhelming that addiction treatment works. It saves taxpayers millions of dollars over the cost of incarceration, reduces unemployment, prevents many addiction-related illnesses, saves millions in healthcare costs, and reduces violent crime. Addiction workforce development could solve huge problems for patients, addiction treatment programs, addiction counselors and society as a whole. But is the problem too big to solve?

Partnering for solutions

Caggiano-Siino and her counterparts in several other states believe the problem can be solved. But it will take a partnership that includes government, the provider network and addiction professionals.

Government can help by offering loan forgiveness to those who prepare for work in the addiction field. There needs to be support for an addiction treatment infrastructure that ensures the availability of qualified professional staff, accountability, and quality of care. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends federal leadership and partnership with elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher learning to generate early student interest and to promote opportunities within the field.3

The provider network needs to hone its talent management skills. This involves careful planning to attract, select, develop and retain staff. Programs should design a career path for the positions that turn over most frequently.4

This could include salary differentials for Counselor I, II and III positions, as well as administrative options. A career path helps staff members realize they are part of a profession. It validates training, academic credentials, time in the field, and prior experience.3

Management best practices include:

  • Providing staff development/training;

  • Allowing for flexible work schedules;

  • Rotating staff assignments;

  • Providing staff mentors;

  • Rewarding staff for performance; and

  • Providing supportive supervision and manageable caseloads.5,6

All staff members should have a professional development plan. This can be co-written by the supervisor and the staff member, and committed to by both. Programs can develop a leadership pool by soliciting external mentors (outside the addiction field), leadership assessments, and “talent audits,” where programs identify who is promotable in the next 6, 12 and 24 months. Succession planning is the end product of a robust leadership program.4

Programs also could pool resources. Networks can enhance the infrastructure of member agencies by making available specialized staff. For example, nursing, vocational, psychiatric, psychological, clinical social work and other services can be shared through co-location, joint funding, referral or rotation.

This sharing of resources allows economies of scale for participating agencies and also makes available critically needed supports that might otherwise be unaffordable. When organizations join together in networks, they benefit from the ability to manage care efficiently across agencies, and those whom they serve benefit from access to a more complete array of services.3

Addiction professionals can help by sharing their stories. There are many success stories shared about clients, but not as many about the rewards of witnessing the struggles and triumphs of those grappling with addiction.

Brush up your public speaking skills. Speak publicly at least three times a year about what you do; practice until you're comfortable enough to share off the top of your head at a moment's notice. You can add your story to the online resource “Stories From the Drug and Alcohol Addiction Front” at

Stay in the game

Finally, as an addiction professional you can also continue your education, regardless of your age, to better prepare yourself for the more and more complicated cases we are seeing. And you can leave the rocking chair on the front porch empty for a few more years.

Nicholas a. roes, phd Nicholas A. Roes, PhD, author of

Solutions for the ‘Treatment-Resistant’ Addicted Client (Haworth Press, 2002; reviewed in the January 2003 issue of