To address the workforce development issues facing senior living, operators need to get the word out about the industry and the careers it offers, work with educational institutions to build a pipeline of employees, and take steps to make new and existing staff members feel welcome and appreciated.
Those are some of the insights shared by four CEOs who participated in a closing general session discussion moderated by veteran broadcast journalist Ann Compton at the Argentum 2016 Senior Living Executive Conference in Denver.
“We’ve got several challenges, from frontline employees to leadership,” said Brenda Bacon, president and CEO of Brandywine Senior Living.
The senior living industry is not well recognized as a career possibility, she added. “The more we can expose young people to our industry, the more they will say, ‘This is something that I want to do,’ ” Bacon said.
That exposure is needed, agreed Silverado founder, president and CEO Loren Shook. Many people who would be a good fit for the industry “don’t even know who we are or what we are,” he said. “They think we’re the nursing home that they went to 30 years ago to visit their grandmother that was scary to them.”
Attracting the best caregivers as possible requires attracting top-notch leaders, Shook said. Potential leaders need to know that they can do well financially in a career in senior living, and caregivers and people holding other lower-level positions need to know that they can make a difference in people’s lives and fulfill the need they have to serve, he added.
The possibility for personal fulfillment sets senior living apart from other industries that offer similar pay, he said. “How many people are flipping burgers who don’t feel fulfilled when they go home?” Shook asked.
John A. Moore, CEO of Atria Senior Living, said that the industry must educate nursing schools so that they can help meet the forecasted demand for nurses for assisted living. Part of that education will include helping schools understand that a nurse working in assisted living needs a different set of skills than one working in skilled nursing or another setting, he added.
Business schools and their students need to be educated about the availability of careers in the industry, too, Shook said.
Once people decide to pursue work in senior living and are hired, operators need to make them feel welcome, said Pat Mulloy, chairman and CEO of Elmcroft Senior Living
“People leave us because they feel isolated. They don’t have any sense of a career path,” he added. To change that situation, Mulloy said that Elmcroft plans to pair new employees with existing workers for a year and incentivize the mentors to connect with their mentees.
Informal relationships can be helpful as well, Shook said, because having a friend at work provides a simple human connection that makes it more likely that a worker will stay on the job. He said that operators, therefore, might consider encouraging existing workers to befriend new workers, at least until the new workers can establish their own friendships in the workplace.
Words can go a long way, too, Shook said. Senior living leaders, be they in the C suite or at the community level, “need to make sure that we’re telling our staff what a great job they’re doing,” he said.
Many of the solutions to workforce development issues tie into company and community culture, Bacon said. That culture is nurtured by hiring and retaining the right employees, who in turn contribute to an environment that others want to join.
And a good culture is good for business, she said. “It’s what they’re doing every day that makes our brand, and if they’re not happy, that hurts our brand,” Bacon said.
But it’s not all about culture, Mulloy said. Labor can represent 40% to 50% of costs, he said, so accomplishing workforce development goals can improve a business’ financial success. And that financial success can help drive better wages for frontline staff, he added, helping to recruit and retain workers.
New board members, committees
Before the panel discussion had begun, Argentum President and CEO James Balda announced that the Executive Director Leadership Institute, held in conjunction with the annual meeting, had surpassed 100 attendees for the first time.
Separately Thursday, Argentum announced the new members elected to its board of directors:
- Jack Callison, CEO of Enlivant;
- Labeed Diab, chief operating officer of Brookdale;
- Judd Harper, president of the Arbor Company;
- Justin Hutchens, chief investment officer and executive vice president of HCP;
- Robert Probst, EVP, chief financial officer and chief financial officer of Ventas;
- Andy Smith, president and CEO of Brookdale; and
- Collette Valentine, CEO and COO of Integral Senior Living.
Shook had been announced as the new board chair on Tuesday. He previously was vice chairman of the board.
Argentum also announced that it has created seven new committees consisting of members of the board and others appointed from member organizations. The committees are focused on four imperatives identified by the group — workforce development, quality improvement, operational excellence and consumer choice — as well as senior living public policy, legal affairs, and Argentum’s political action committee and advocacy fund.