What Does the Future of Occupational Therapy Look Like?

Want to get an idea of what the future holds for the occupational therapy profession? Below are highlights from the 2015 AOTA Salary and Workforce Survey on the future plans of students, unemployment trends, and the reality of the job market.

Currently AOTA represents 132,700 occupational therapists, 51,700 occupational therapy assistants, and 28,600 occupational therapy students.

Perceptions of the Occupational Therapy Job Market & the Reality

Occupational therapy often is included in lists of best jobs with high demand. Do those lists match the reality? Our survey found that students have very positive outlooks for the job market, and recent graduates report getting job offers within a few months of graduation.

Students are optimistic about the occupational therapy job market. When asked the question, “based on your experience, and what you have heard from others or have read, how ‘healthy’ do you feel the market is regarding job availability in the occupational therapy field?” most rated the market as healthy, with a majority selecting the top 3 points on a 0- to 10-point scale.

Perceptions of the Occupational Therapy Job Market

0 = Very Depressed, No / Few Positions Available; 10 = Very Health, Positions Found

Note: Percentages doe not add to 100 due to rounding.

Employment After Graduation

When recent graduates were asked how long after graduation they received their first job offer, the vast majority said fewer than 3 months. Almost 40% said they received an offer 1 month after graduation.

How Many Months After Graduation Did You Receive First Job Offer

In addition to receiving offers quickly after graduation, only about 17% did not find employment in the setting of their choice. 

Did You Find Employment in Preferred Practice Setting?

Employed in preferred practice setting

Future Plans of Current Occupational Therapy Students

Respondents were asked to indicate whether they were considering a career in academia, a career as a researcher, or their own private practice. Each response gained interest since the 2010 survey.

Opening up a private practice is the most appealing of the options, with well over half, 58.2% versus 47.1% in 2010, saying they are either "strongly" or "somewhat" considering such a move. Although still a majority, 50.3% versus 38.1% in 2010 feel the same way about a career in academia. A career as a researcher holds the least appeal of the three choices, with only 23.9% versus 21% in 2010, saying they are at least "somewhat" interested in this career direction.

Future Plans in Academia

Future plans in academia

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 due to rounding.

Future Plans as a Researcher

Future plans in research

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 due to rounding.

Future Plans in Private Practice

Future plans in private practice

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 due to rounding.

Unemployment Trends

Although the number of respondents who said they were unemployed remained low, there was a measurable increase in the percentage and duration of time respondents were unemployed. Overall, those who said they were unemployed for any period of time in the past 12 months grew from 7.5% in 2010 to 10.4% in 2014, a 38.7% increase. OTAs were more likely to have been out of work, with 15.2% unemployed in 2014. The median length of unemployment for OTs increased by 2 weeks, from 10 weeks in 2010 to 12 weeks in 2014.

Unemployment Trends, 2010 to 2014

Unemployed Any Time in 2014

Median Weeks Unemployed

Unemployed Any Time in 2010

Median Weeks Unemployed in 2010