for new hires. The risk that a few might go through training and quit was offset by the success of the program, says Tommy Com- er, vice president of human resources. Onboarding: Participants were unanimous that this must go beyond filling out forms; many see it as a 90-day process. Brookdale uses gamification to make it fun. Common- wealth got rid of outdated first-day training videos and got employees talking face-to- face. Career development is now baked in to the onboarding process. Employee development: Open communica- tion, transparency, and celebrating achieve- ment work here. Tanya Walker, vice president at Kensington Senior Living, uses Facebook to celebrate achievements, and finds the Ritz-Carlton model, where employees are empowered with resources to solve problems independently, a good idea. “Instead of exit interviews, we do ‘stay’ interviews,” engaging staff in more in-depth career conversations, said Delinda Kanaskie, vice president at Country Meadows Retirement Communities. Engagement and retention: “Straight-up cash bonuses,” is one pilot program being tested at Brookdale, says Liberty Stansberry, senior vice

president of human resources at Brookdale. Another pilot offers help with student loans. Leadership development: Cardona suggests adding training on dealing with death to leadership development. Training in men- torship is another valuable offering—panel- ists cautioned that it’s not a natural skill, and it needs to be clearly defined. And if workers do move on? “Have an

exit plan and a succession plan,” says Jones. “You want the individual to exit your

organization feeling as fabulous as the day they started. They’re marketing your organization.”

The Policy Piece of the Puzzle Senior living isn’t the only sector facing misalignment among need, workers, and training. Significant federal involvement seeks to better position the nation for the demographic shifts. The Workforce Innovation & Opportu- nity Act and the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act are designed for the very challenges the senior living industry faces. With goals of increasing flexibility for states and communities and aligning career

Dr. David DeLong discusses workforce development opportunities at the Workforce Development Symposium.

and technical education to in-demand jobs, these federal measures open up new opportunities for businesses to shape the workforce they need. Workforce boards can seek out non-federal funds, explore new collaborations, and back innovations. James Redstone, staffer on the Education

and the Workforce Committee at the U.S. House of Representatives, encouraged senior living providers to partner and get involved with state or local workforce boards, which are required to have industry representation.


Strategies shared at the symposium were often inspired by the need to court millennials, but leaders say a few tweaks make them useful in recruiting and retaining the broadest and most diverse selection of qualified workers.

• Stretch. While senior living is known for workplace flexibility, many providers are pushing it further: Summers off for parents, for instance, with interns filling the gap. Using empowering tools and communication moves just-in-time scheduling into the plus column.

• Learn this emerging term: Candidate experience. It’s adapted from “user experience,” says Silverado’s Levoit, and it means making the application experience seamless, welcoming, and respectful. Silverado has an online portal with live chat recruiters answering questions; it allows candidates to fill out forms at the center most convenient to them; and it offers medical tests in-house—all part of a concierge-level recruiting experience.

• Always be scouting. Blue Harbor Senior Living CEO Tana Gall tells of handing out a card along with an interview offer to restaurant or hotel workers or managers offering exemplary service, or to executives in other industries.


• Update your culture. As values change, you might see that your workforce and your residents aren’t so far apart—everybody wants WiFi. A millennial wants to bring a dog to work? Give it a try.

• Open more roads to advancement. The path to executive director isn’t the only way to get ahead. You can offer on-the-job experience in IT, sales, public relations, and more.

• Money talks. Fair compensation is still workers’ top concern, according to the Argentum survey on public perceptions. Bonuses based on occupancy or referrals, one tactic used at Commonwealth, can cultivate a sense of every worker being responsible for the success of the enterprise.

• Take a new look at video. Brookdale employees gave video testimonials about why they loved their work—and tears flowed. Levoit told of a hospital that allows applicants to make short videos about why they want to work there—and the glimpse of personality can sometimes reveal more than a resume could.

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