SAN DIEGO — The demand for behavioral health workers is exploding in San Diego County. The region will need 18,500 more workers in the next five years according to a new report.
The San Diego Workforce Partnership found the county needs 18,500 more workers hired by 2027 to account for population growth and replace those who leave the industry.
The county has 17,000 behavioral health professionals in the current workforce and needs an additional 8,100 just to keep up with today's demand.
CBS 8 asked an economist what could help spark a surge in hiring.
"If we can pay them well and give them a manageable workload we can become a destination place for people to come do this kind of work," said Karen Boyd, an economist with the San Diego Workforce Partnership.
The partnership says the county needs to bring on more community health workers, family therapists, substance abuse counselors and psychiatrists.
San Diego Workforce Partnership Chief Economist Daniel Enemark said these behavioral health occupations are often the first line of defense.
"Behavioral health services reach people when they're struggling with addiction or mental illness before they become homeless or become incarcerated," Enemark said.
The county is establishing a $128 million fund to help offer scholarships, loans and create a regional training center.
San Diego College of Continuing Education is taking its own action to address the shortage and offers free behavioral health training.
"Our short classes are one to three months and I think our longest is five. It's a really good option because then you can parlay that into even higher education," said Carrie Lewis, the interim program director at SDCCE.
Students pay a test fee to get their certificate. Lewis said many enter the workforce right away. Fall enrollment is open. Learn more, here.
"People that come into healthcare come because they want a job but also because they want to make a difference," she said.
She's hopeful more people will share a passion for the industry and help meet the needs of the community.
WATCH RELATED: San Diego County to expand Mental Health Crisis services with 988 number (July 2022).