Editor’s note: If you’re at the Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference, stop by the McKnight’s Senior Living booth to pick up a copy of our June print issue, which contains this article and many others.

In late February, Argentum announced that it had hired Brent Weil into a newly created position, vice president of workforce development, at the association. Senior Editor Lois A. Bowers recently spoke with him about the senior living industry’s No. 1 challenge.

What attracted you to the position at Argentum?

There are many associations out there, but Argentum really is unique in its focus. I was really impressed with the strategic direction, the dynamic leadership and the team that’s here.

Workforce issues are a clear challenge that all members have. Argentum has had a standing workforce development committee on its board, so there’s momentum and the impetus to be able to move on the issue and act in ways that can really make a difference.

Many senior living companies have been doing really good things in this area. An association like Argentum is in a great position to help the industry grow together, learn best practices and carry forward in ways that can have a bigger impact than any one company can do on its own.

You came from the Manufacturing Institute, a 501(c)(3) affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers. What similarities, if any, do you see between the workforce needs of manufacturing industry and the needs of senior living?

Manufacturers felt that there was a poor image, a misunderstanding, about the kinds of careers that existed and about what modern manufacturing was all about. That’s certainly something that we see within senior living, too. People know, for example, what a nursing home is but may not really have understood what assisted living is all about and what a career there would look like versus in a nursing home or hospital.

We also see young people who may be perfect for senior living careers and just don’t have exposure to them. That’s certainly something that we saw within manufacturing. One of the ways that we were able to combat that was to have younger people who are working in manufacturing be ambassadors, exposing people to that kind of environment, have them visit for tours and have industry people visit the classrooms.

Both industries have skill needs at all levels. Within senior living, there are needs from registered nurses and executive directors to CNAs.

Both industries have concerns about people having the right skills. We need to make sure that we understand who can thrive and be best for our industry and make sure that we are looking in the best way possible, reaching out as broadly as we can and helping people come into an environment that they are best suited for and help support them as they come in.

Some things that worked in manufacturing were raising awareness through grassroots effort. Plant managers and human resources leaders developed partnerships with community colleges and other educational institutions that tied into the careers that were there within their companies and training opportunities that were aligned to industry certifications in which industry was able to step up and work with education to help guide the right kinds of people to come through.

The talent shortage that is faced in senior living is not just in an industry and it’s not just in the United States. There’s a global shortage of talent across industries, across the world. The industries that thrive are going to be the ones that make addressing workforce issues a strategic priority and work at the national level and then down to the grassroots to make change happen.

Speaking of the national level, in what ways, if any, do you believe the federal government can help address workforce issues facing senior living?

That’s a big issue. At our Public Policy Institute in March, we had some outstanding presentations by policymakers at the federal and state levels who spoke to some of the challenges and possible ways to address them through immigration policy, workforce policy and the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act and Higher Education Act. We also discussed apprenticeships.

Policymakers at the state level also discussed the impact the governors’ offices can have and the role that senior living executives and professionals can play in helping to organize policy and connect to programs at the state level, some of them federally funded, that can support on-the-job training or working in concert with education in their communities.

What kind of workforce-related concerns have you been hearing from member communities?

Every company that I’ve talked to, every professional I’ve talked to, has noted that a senior living community is a great place to work and that people have misunderstandings about it. For example, I’ve heard concerns about the lack of awareness in nursing programs and in academic programs in healthcare administration about the opportunity to apply those skills within senior living.

Lack of awareness extends down to what people in technical school — at the high school level, for example — consider as well, and what their parents understand about what senior living careers look like.

People are interested in developing more effective relationships with education at the K-12 level and at community colleges and universities. It’s hard to make meaningful relationships that will develop a pipeline into the jobs that we need in ways that are sustaining. It’s a challenge to establish connections with workforce agencies and other connections that could be those feeders.

People also want to get the most out of the diverse workforce, particularly across multiple generations, to help ensure that we’ve got the high performers moving forward and staying within the industry. Turnover is something that people have spoken to as a concern as well.

I hear real interest in not just talking about what the problems are — because we all know what the problems are — but interest in rolling up our sleeves and working at the community level to address those things in ways that are going to ensure that we’ve got the workers that we need to have the best communities that we possibly can and the best care we can.

All of us, from the C-suite down to the community level, should feel empowered to make connections with current workers, with the education system, with veterans and other places where we know we can be reaching people with the right kinds of skills. Our job at Argentum is to help facilitate that, to provide that roadmap to implementing solutions for now and for building that pipeline for the future. We really are excited.