“now hiring” sign posted on business door
(Credit: Catherine McQueen / Getty Images)

By 2040, long-term care settings will have 20 million job openings — 3 million of those alone in senior living — escalating the need to recruit and retain workers, and to educate lawmakers on the acute and growing crisis.

Argentum released its “Workforce Projections for Long Term Care Sectors” during its Public Policy Institute this week in Washington, DC. Based on forecasts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report examines the workforce landscape across senior living, skilled nursing, home healthcare and services for older adults and people with disabilities.

The report was developed to identify gaps in the long-term care workforce and to support Argentum’s strategic plan to develop workers and effectively tell the industry’s story to lawmakers and regulators.

“The data provides a realistic look at where our industry’s workforce challenges lie,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “The next decade certainly will have its own set of challenges recruiting and retaining a senior living workforce, but it also will have profound opportunities to shape how the industry cares for America’s seniors.”

Total employment across all long-term care provider types industry is projected to reach 8.3 million by 2040, representing a 42.1% increase from 2021 employment levels. On top of the additional 2.5 million jobs that will be created in the industry in that time, an additional 18 million job openings will result from employees exiting the labor force or changing jobs.

The most in-demand jobs will be home health and personal care aides (1 million total employees needed by 2040), followed by nursing assistants (488,800), food servers (219,200), cooks (155,200) and housekeepers (135,600).

Workforce projections show that California will need the most employees — 3.9 million — by 2040, followed by New York (2 million), Texas (1.8 million) and Pennsylvania (1 million).

“Compared to other healthcare fields — as severe as their problems are — they pale in comparison to this crisis,” said Maggie Elehwany, adding that senior living needs to amplify that message on a state and national basis. “We need to make sure they hear us.”

The key to keeping older adults invested in senior living communities lies in attracting skilled workers and keeping up with prospective residents’ and residents’ growing needs and expectations, the report reads.  

COVID-19 pandemic disrupted employment gains

Between 2000 and 2019, the senior living industry created 489,000 jobs — a 102% jump. In that same time, total employment in the combined long-term care industry nearly doubled, creating 3 million jobs.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, disrupted sector growth and led to significant job losses.

Senior living lost 107,000 positions between February 2020 and November 2021 due to the pandemic. Between February and May 2020, the combined long-term care sector lost 402,000 jobs, almost 7% of its total employment base.

Although employment levels began trending higher in the months that followed, the total number of jobs in the combined long-term care sector as of September 2022 remained below its pre-pandemic peak.

Building career pathways through strategic partnerships

One way Argentum is working to try to address workforce shortages is by engaging with different groups to expand the workforce pipeline.

“There are a lot of community-based resources — they just are not aware of your needs,” Ashante Abubakar, Argentum vice president of workforce development, said during a workforce partnership session on Monday.

Argentum recently signed a partnership agreement with Job Corps to develop a senior living certification channel. The effort is part of a broader strategy of finding and retaining senior living workers and getting younger workers excited about the industry. As part of that effort, Argentum partnered with Management & Training Corp.  to create a pilot program offering senior living career opportunities to select Job Corps students. 

Abubakar said that in talking with students in the healthcare program within Job Corps, “the lightbulb went off” for many when they learned about opportunities in the senior living industry.

“By establishing this relationship with Job Corps across the country, we’re putting senior living on the curriculum as a focus area, just like hospitality and others, that might help us move the needle,” he said. “At the very least, it will help qualify those Job Corps students to come into senior living, because that is just not happening now.”

Argentum also is working with American Job Centers, community colleges and four-year universities to introduce senior living into their curriculums and provide assistance with industry certifications and competencies.