Turning Workforce Challenges into Industry Progress

By Sara Wildberger H

elp wanted: 1.2 million new em- ployees—347,000 for new jobs, 900,000 to replace departing em-

ployees. Must apply within the next 10 years. The numbers are daunting. But after advice from keynote speaker Dr. David DeLong to “turn the problem around,” industry leaders agreed on a more empowering re- cruiting message: Be part of a growing field with a job that offers meaning, flexibility, and opportunities—and one where you’ll still have work-life balance. The Argentum Workforce Development Symposium: Policy, Perceptions & Practice brought together more than 50 executives late October at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., to build solutions. The takeaway? The workers are out there, and so are innovative methods to find them, train them, and keep them engaged and advancing. What’s missing is market aware- ness. Too many potential workers simply don’t know about the benefits of careers in senior living.

Getting the Metrics To tackle a challenge, you first have to measure it. DeLong, a research fellow at MIT AgeLab and president of Smart Workforce Strategies, outlined the macro economic trends in his pre- sentation “Building Tomorrow’s Senior Living Workforce in Today’s Economy.” While age demographics often take the

headlines, with an emphasis on recruiting millennials, DeLong highlighted other mea- surements that matter such as geography. Las Vegas, for example, is known as a tough market for senior living hires due to intense competition with various industries, but a rural community can suddenly become comparably competitive if a superstore distribution center opens. Knowing your

A panel of senior living executives discuss managing turnover and strengthening engagement at the Workforce Development Symposium.

business’s growth trajectory is another con- sideration: If the workforce isn’t there, can you afford to expand? Internal organizational measurement is just as important. Tana Gall, CEO of Blue Harbor Senior Living, and Mark Woodka, CEO at OnShift, which sponsored the sym- posium, updated the group on Argentum’s effort to create consistent, industry-wide workforce metrics.

The Mission Is the Message Those within the profession know senior living is radically different than some public perceptions. But “making an industry sexier is an issue a lot of sectors face today,” DeLong said. “Unless you’re in video games, software, or fashion, you’re not in a sexy business.” “You’ll find deep purpose here—that’s our cutting edge,” said Oscar Cardona, chief human resources officer at Holiday Retirement. Cardona was among several calling for the development of branding, stories, and a tagline, that communicates what makes the sector unique. “We already have a mix of what workers


are looking for,” said Charles Ross, chief talent officer at the Francis E. Parker Me- morial Home, which Ross said is currently undergoing a rebranding to better reflect its services. “We just need to articulate this, to the right people.” “It begins with the story—and that frame-

work is going to have to be clear and entic- ing,” said Crescendo Principal Pam Jones, who shared best practices from other indus- try leaders including her work with American Red Cross and Marriott International. Over a working lunch, groups took a foray

into creating messages and awareness to edu- cate different age cohorts about senior living.

Ages and Stages But capturing attention is just the begin- ning. Workforce development is a cycle. Here are some highlights shared to improve every step: Recruiting: Silverado creates targeted ads for different areas, says its vice president of hu- man resources, Nathan Levoit. Common- wealth Senior Living partnered with local agencies to pay for state-approved training

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