Building Workforce Capacity: Recruit, Train, Forecast

Decades of underinvestment has undermined the public health workforce—America’s first line of defense against disease outbreaks and other health threats. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the consequences.

With recent increases in funding—from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, American Rescue Plan, and other sources—the Division of Scientific Education and Professional Development (DSEPD) is expanding efforts to address workforce development needs. Our approach is data-driven and rooted in high-quality science. Here’s how we do it and what we’ve accomplished.

Recruit: Attract a More Diverse and Qualified Public Health Workforce

DSEPD offers many full-time fellowships on public health topics from epidemiology to health economics. Our fellowships are a pathway to public health careers and leadership positions at CDC and other public health agencies, so strengthening the diversity of today’s fellows leads to more inclusive public health leadership tomorrow.

We use innovative recruitment tools and methods to better reach diverse candidates with a background or interest in health sciences, data science, and other fields. Expanding our resources has allowed us to:

Train: Build the Skills of the Current and Future Workforce

We train students, fellows, and current professionals so we are prepared to protect the public’s health across every community in the United States.

  • Fellows are assigned to CDC programs and public health partner organizations. They receive training and mentoring, strengthen applied public health and data science skills, and provide public health service during their assignments.
  • CDC TRAIN makes it possible to rapidly share trainings during public health emergencies. We were able to quickly build courses for COVID-19 responders on vaccination, case investigation, contact tracing, infection control, and testing.

    Upskilling programs for CDC staff use best practices for adult learning to advance current skill sets. Training is specific to a learner’s needs and immediately applied to their work. All projects address CDC’s Data Modernization Initiative or other agency priorities.

  • Curated training and learning platforms give the whole public health community access to quality courses and continuing education. The CDC TRAIN learning management system offers more than 1,000 courses developed by CDC programs and funded partners. The Training and Continuing Education Online system helps professionals complete CE activities.

With supplemental funding provided by the American Rescue Plan, we work with partners to expand our most successful fellowship and training activities. Examples include:

  • Implementing a Public Health Analytics and Modeling track in the Prevention Effectiveness Fellowship.
  • Expanding the Epidemiology Elective Program to place more medical and veterinary students at health departments.
  • Expanding the Laboratory Leadership Service and Epidemic Intelligence Service to provide more on-the-job service to CDC and state or local public health laboratories and agencies.
  • Expanding the Epidemic Intelligence Service to directly address public health threats by placing more fellows at state and local public health departments or at CDC headquarters.
  • Partnering with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists to

Forecast: Plan for Tomorrow’s Workforce through Our Actions Today

Strategic forecasting is a methodical process of analyzing the current workforce (supply), determining future workforce needs (demand), and identifying the gap between the present and the future. Forecasting is a crucial component of workforce planning. It is a significant opportunity for growth within public health workforce development.

With recent investments in the public health workforce, DSEPD is applying a strategic approach to develop our forecasting capacity and evidence-based decision making. A noteworthy example: in 2022, DSEPD established the first-ever Public Health Workforce Research Center with the Health Resources and Services Administration. This program supports and disseminates applied research to better understand issues and trends in the public health workforce. The work uses new and innovative predictive analytic methods alongside established methods (e.g., time-series models, regression models) to

  • Evaluate the roles of public health occupations in delivering foundational services across populations.
  • Investigate public health workforce composition, data, needs, sufficiency, and distribution.
  • Assess public health workforce development methods such as recruitment and training programs.
  • Conduct implementation science research, including identification of evidence-informed strategies and interventions.

Findings from this research will guide programs and strategies to ensure we have a diverse workforce with the capacity to address and respond to health threats. To support our analytic efforts, our strategic approach also includes

  • Increasing IT systems support and functionality to improve forecasting activities
  • Evaluating programs to expand those that are most effective, identify areas for improvement, and refine forecasting.