An untrained eye on the senior living workforce would likely see a 2% unemployment rate as a positive. Yet all of the expense and effort invested in attracting and hiring workers on the front end is wasted if they quickly leave on the back end.

To that casual observer, record shortages are inexplicable in an industry that boasts a highly enviable job growth rate that’s five times greater than the economy in general.

Over the past decade, 21 million new jobs were created in the field. Yet senior housing and care is crushed by turnover as high as 66% in some places, according to PHI (formerly known as the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute).

At any given moment, one in four nurse’s aides is actively looking for another job. Why do senior living and care communities have such a difficult time finding and keeping staff?

Some experts blame immigration restrictions and the lethal combination of declining birth and skyrocketing baby boomer retirement rates.

Most say money is the main culprit. And candidates aren’t shy asking for more of it.

It is not uncommon for wage wars to erupt among neighboring communities. “We’ve heard stories where people are raising wages by 25 cents,” OnShift CEO Mark Woodka says. (See related survey findings in Briefs.)

Getting creative

Operators are getting clever in other ways. One community recruiter tossed inscribed footballs into the stands of a high school football game to attract graduating seniors.

Despite efforts by workforce solutions companies to raise awareness, many employers continue making the same mistakes, such as ignoring coveted perks such as flex time and smartphone use.

It turns out that saving money and avoiding debt is an effective turnover antidote, at least for Louisville- KY-based Trilogy Health Services. Employees are staying an average 30 months longer since the company began offering student loan repayment assistance, scholarships and other financial help.

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