PHOENIX—A critical piece of securing the future of senior living is expanding the number of qualified workers who can care for the growing population of older Americans. Argentum is using its previously announced senior living and allied health apprenticeship program to attract more workers to the field, with plans to expand that program into leadership roles.
“Historically, attracting a pipeline of talent working in senior living has been an ongoing challenge,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said Wednesday during the final day of the 2021 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference & Expo. “That challenge has never been more difficult than today.”
The Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program, supported by a $6 million U.S. Department of Labor grant, has attracted more than 1,500 certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and rehab technicians since its launch last year, he said. Argentum has set a goal of enrolling more than 7,200 apprentices through the program and expansion by February 2024, Balda added.
The HAEP is meant to help address the skills gap in healthcare and healthcare information technology occupations. The program to date is supported by 12 employers and is registered in 23 states. It has a 38% participation rate among persons of color and boasts an 85% retention rate, according to Argentum.
Before the pandemic, Balda said, the senior living industry already knew that it needed to recruit 1.4 million professionals by 2025. Recent workforce data show that the industry lost more than 87,000 jobs during the first 17 months of the pandemic, an 8.9% decline from pre-pandemic levels, taking the industry back to its February 2016 employment level, he said.
“The industry is recovering more slowly than the private sector,” Balda said, adding that Argentum is continuing to educate policy makers on the “tremendous need” to increase the senior living workforce. “We are asking Congress to address the need for human infrastructure by bolstering workforce development programs, expanding visa programs for eligible caregivers, creating a sustainability fund for those still struggling from COVID, improving access to childcare for caregivers, and providing tax assistance to individuals caring for a loved one.”
Kindred Healthcare has 237 apprentices after joining the program in June 2020. The company created an apprentice team lead position, filled by employees who mentor trainees while furthering their own leadership skills. Kindred also requires that apprentices complete a capstone project.
“We hoped this would give staff more confidence, more leadership and more buy-in, and that’s exactly what’s happening,” Laura Dailey, Ph.D., Kindred Healthcare manager of apprenticeship programs, said in a statement.
Bickford Senior Living joined the program this year, extending an existing training initiative, Bickford Career Ladders, to all nurse assistants. Vice President of Employee Support Christy Dienstbier said that the goal “is to offer career ladders for every position within the organization, up to divisional director positions.”
Bickford calls its mentors “black pearls” because “black pearls are rare, and our mentors are the rare type of person who both excels at their position and can lead and teach others,” Dienstbier said.
The current HAEP cohort is eligible to receive training and reimbursements to cover a portion of training costs. Additional benefits are available to employers designated as small businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
Other participating employers joining this year include Nazareth Home and Virginia Health Services.
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