Senior Living Works: A Much-needed Industry Resource (Episode 40)

August 23, 2018

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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello from SmartLinx Solutions! Today’s podcast guest is Brent Weil, vice president of workforce development for Argentum, the national leading association in senior living. Senior Living Works is an initiative led by Argentum to meet the current and future workforce needs of the senior living industry. Brent is focusing his efforts on the challenges and opportunities facing the senior living industry in professional development, as well as recruiting and retaining dedicated workers to care for the growing population of older Americans. Welcome, Brent. Thanks for joining us today.

Brent Weil: Thanks very much, Darcy, I appreciate the chance to talk about something I’m passionate about, workforce development in our industry in senior living.

DG: Great. So Brent, I’ve described Senior Living Works in a nutshell, but I’d like you to go into more detail for our listeners. We all know there’s a significant staffing shortage in the long-term care industry, that’s an understatement I guess. Is this what prompted the formation of Senior Living Works? Tell us how it came to be.

BW: Absolutely. I don’t have to tell the people listening that workforce is a challenge. We do have a number of reports that really get to the issue that we face. And we know from data from research of our industry and information from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that it’s tough today and it’s going to get even tougher. So we are projecting that through the year 2025 we will need to recruit 1.2 million people into the senior living industry. And the numbers don’t tell the whole story. I talk to our members, I talk to professionals and executives in senior living industry, and to a person they all tell me that workforce development is the issue that we face that really is going to be a critical test of how we can continue to grow as an industry and thrive. And, looking to the future, it’s going to get tougher unless we really take those steps that we need to, to recruit the right people into our industry and critically really develop them, keep our talent, so that we can continue to thrive as an industry.

This is something where we were able to launch it this year, but it comes on the heels of a lot of that data and research work that’s been done by, for example, our board and the workforce development committee on our board that’s really identified these critical issues. So we have a perfect storm, and Argentum has really been able to step up to support initially our work and really how we support the outreach and better understanding of the issues that we face and increasingly going to allow us to work together as an industry toward solutions that we’re calling Senior Living Works is the way to really be able to address that as an industry and working and with partners in our community to make sure that we do everything we can to get the talent we need.

DG: Right. So recruitment and retention are two big buzzwords, not only in senior care, but in the human resources profession as a whole. With that in mind, what types of resources do you offer via Senior Living Works?

BW: We launched Senior Living Works as a program and also a website at SeniorLiving.Works, and our first initiative around it has been supporting our recruitment focused on the image of our industry, how we’re really presenting it, and being able to get the right kinds of partners in the community to be our best recruitment resources. So we have launched now, with a range of materials on outreach. We have a video we’re extremely proud of, that focuses on people’s careers and how they really have found their perfect career niche in senior living.

Also, agendas and presentations to be able to go and visit schools, ways to really speak to students about the careers in senior living. But also to be able to speak to faculty and administrators of high schools and community colleges to really talk to them about what we are as an industry, how we can get more out of our partnerships, really get people working with us.

We also offer how-to’s. We have a webinar series. And we’ve been signing up what we call Senior Living Works Ambassadors. Those are senior living professionals who really point people in their companies to be able to do that kind of outreach in the schools, work with us in ways that we’re using these materials to best effect.

DG: Well I’ve signed up to be an ambassador, and I’ve attended your webinars to date, so I can vouch, they’re very packed with practical and useful information.

BW: Appreciate that. There’s a place for everybody within our industry, and even partners in education can be our ambassadors. What we’re really seeing is that everything from the C-suite of our companies down to the executive directors and professionals in our communities, our industry is hungry for information. We know that what we’re doing right now is not as successful as it can be, that we’re having trouble finding the right workers, really having a hard time in really motivating people to stay with us and grow with us, so really hungry for the kind of information about what works.

And Senior Living Works and our ambassadors are really designed, not just to be one way from Argentum this is how to do things, but really a community of like-minded people from across the industry that are really committed to doing the kind of work to reach out to schools and share our best practices, share what’s really working and really grow together the workforce that we all are going to need. And it’s something where we find with Senior Living Works is a great way for us to come together around common messaging, professional materials, a growing library of resources to be able to use and that’s really the philosophy behind our ambassador program at Senior Living Works.

DG: Brent, I wanted to back up to something you mentioned previously. You were talking about presenting the image of the senior living industry. Is that something that you think needs work?

BW: I think it does. I have had the opportunity to speak to high school classes, people in universities, I’ve gone to a couple of job course centers. And these are programs where people are actually learning nursing aid, interested in becoming LPNs and RNs, they’re in hospital administration programs. So they’re already looking for a career in healthcare or hospitality. But, interestingly, when I ask them what they know or are interested in senior living and long-term care, I get a lot of blank stares a lot of times. Or there is a lack of awareness, even for people interested in our sector, a lack of awareness about what those opportunities really are.

And we think that in senior living in particular, we’ve got so many advantages — the chance to be able to work in a community setting, the chance to be able to work with residents over a long-term basis is so different from say what a nurse would encounter in acute care in a hospital setting. And the opportunity to be able to grow quickly in the industry, say to be able to become an executive director and what kind of career that means, that we know within the industry just how exciting those opportunities really are.

I’ve talked to so many people in our industry who love their careers and are excited about their careers. And that’s something that is really missing from what the general public understands, and even sometimes from what education programs understand. So even community college programs, for example, might even be missing out on the kinds of messaging to be able to talk to people about senior living as a career option.

Part of what we intend to do is both at the national level provide the kinds of resource materials to be able to really make that case and grow that awareness nationally. But all of us have an opportunity, even an obligation, to share our enthusiasm, our own story about senior living when we go and we talk to young people, for example, or career changers or veterans about the kinds of careers that are available. Share our enthusiasm, share what kind of great options there are, share how we grew within the industry. It’s such an underrated, under-appreciated element of what we all can provide, and a lot of it doesn’t cost us a thing, it just means that we just put ourselves out there and share everything that we know with as many people as we can.

DG: That’s amazing, thank you. Let’s talk more about some of your hands-on materials. Could you tell us about the Senior Living Works Engagement Toolkit? From what I’ve seen it’s really a turnkey resource for recruiting, with everything from posters and fliers to email templates, presentations, talking points. Could you give us some details about that?

BW: Well, you’ve really shared what the gamut of resources are that are there. It’s the start of really the kinds of materials that our members and everybody in the industry as really indicated would really be helpful as we’re asked to do more in the community, as we go and talk to schools, as we go to workforce agencies and organizations, to be able to share in a consistent way the kinds of jobs that we have, the kinds of career options.

We have the materials that we’ve branded Careers in Caring, that really get to that element of what’s important, and some of the things that really talk about our industry, talk about the career paths that are in them. I mentioned the video before, that people have been using when they go and visit schools to be able to share that kind of information. And a couple of pieces that have been really valuable, people have told me that they don’t always know what to talk to when they are talking to a partner, like a school for example, like a high school technical program.

So we put together resources, including PowerPoints that people can update and make their own, put in their own particular jobs and information, but really get to even the kinds of things like it’s great that we’ve been having a chance to go to your career fair once a year, I wanted to talk to you more deeply about our needs in the industry, see how we can get a more impactful kind of relationship that will allow us to really weigh in on some of the curriculum that you have and your offerings there, see if there’s a way that we can really be a really good partner with you. And by doing that really setting the stage for a consistent growing partnership where we find that the right school relationships and the right community relationships, they can almost really be an extension of our recruitment process when they really understand us, understand what our procedures are, to be able to go forward that way, and that’s the kinds of support that people can really get on through that toolkit, in a way that will help them to grow those kinds of opportunities and make the most of them.

DG: So you’re saying that all the material is customizable, so I’m looking at it from a marketing standpoint, they can put their own logos and their own messaging on any of the materials?

BW: People can put their logos. We want to leave the Senior Living Works logos, of course, and to make sure that people understand it’s part of a broader effort. But it’s something where companies and organizations have been able to put their information on there too. And one of the things about our industry that outsiders sometimes have a hard time recognizing, different states because of different regulations have different requirements, they have different licenses and certifications, and so even the job titles sometimes are different. And we want people to be able to update those kinds of information that’s really most relevant to them.

I want to point something else out about our materials too, and how to make the best use of this. It’s one thing for — and we encourage our ambassadors to go in and meet with schools, make these kinds of outreaches. On the other hand, when one ambassador does that, or when one company is doing that, that’s one community in one area. Or potentially a regional person who’s able to talk to a few of those things. It’s hard to get a lot of traction in that kind of environment, especially when you look at who might be competing in the same kind of way for potential applicants and students. So we’re in some ways competing with hospital systems or with large hospitality companies that are national reach and that have huge marketing budgets behind them that everybody knows.

So one of the things that we encourage people to do is to work with their state association, to work in a region, to pull together different organizations that have the same kind of challenges. If we do that, we are able to go in in one way that talks about these are — we have a huge need for nursing aids that require this kind of level of certification and these kinds of skills, there is a huge need for dining workers and culinary workers. And to be able to quantify for the region, we’re coming from different organizations but we all are facing these same things. We want to talk about the quantity of the programs here, how many people are going through them as well as what they’re learning and make sure that it’s everything that’s there. When we do that as an industry, we then can really compete on a level playing field, and that’s one of the things that we really encourage. Through these materials, through this national effort with common kind of branding and support behind us is to be able to make that case.

DG: Great. So on your website, there is a career center. How does the online senior living career center work? Is there a fee to post jobs or to view jobs? And could you tell us some of the success stories you’ve had with it?

BW: We do have a career site, and we’re pleased to link to it both from our Argentum homepage as well as from Senior Living Works. There are of course many, many options for people, there are many different job boards that are out there. This is designed to be a lot more than just a job board, that really is designed to be much more targeted than the free sites are or other kinds of sites. So for as little as $150 for members and $250 for non-members, people can post on the job board both with Argentum, and we are a partner with a much larger network called the National Healthcare Career Network, in which then when they post on our career center they’re also posting on up to 300 relevant association job boards, Google Jobs, in ways that many people have found can really reach into a larger pool of candidates, especially those that have specific targeted information and targeted skills that do tie into it.

So we are finding companies have told us that when they post on that site, that there is a higher likelihood that they’re going to find somebody that has the skills that they’re looking for, that kind of experience that’s there that reaches beyond what some of the more commercially known broad-based sites would do in a way that should cut down on the level that people have to kind of wade through a whole bunch of non-responsive resumes to get the one that’s there.

I will say also that since we launched Senior Living Works, we have seen an uptick in the number of job seekers that are going to the career center, and if that trend holds, we think it really bodes well for the opportunity to really help match people that are looking for careers with companies and organizations that really do have that right match that’s there.

I will also say that Argentum sends a weekly email to those job seekers in which we share recent posts, mention jobs, we mention these jobs in Argentum Daily that goes out every Friday. So we think of it as an important resource that is there, our goals in Senior Living Works are really to help provide a range of resources to be able to help our industry locate talent, bring them in effectively, as efficiently as possible and this is another way that we see can be able to help to do that.

DG: So I’ve got another question for you. Does an organization need to be a member of Argentum in order to access the Senior Living Works resources or other tools? And what are some of the benefits to becoming a member of Argentum, either as a provider or, like us, an industry member?

BW: It’s a great question. We see workforce development as such a huge issue across our industry, it’s something where we really wanted to provide the opportunity to reach as many companies and organizations like nonprofit organizations as possible. So Senior Living Works is something that we developed on behalf of the industry. We think the more people that are really tied in, engaged, and using these kinds of materials, the more we’ll be able to grow that overall pie of qualified people coming into the industry and growing within our industry.

So it does not require membership, we appreciate anybody who is going to sign on at SeniorLiving.Works to really become an ambassador and use those materials and grow them. That said, of course we’re always glad when people do consider membership in Argentum as a leading national trade association serving companies that own, operate, and support professionally managed senior living communities in the United States. And that means that companies really get insight into and input on important issues, including insight and including helping to guide our workforce efforts but also really delving into issues like emergency preparedness and memory care, elder abuse prevention. We’re a resource for national and state advocacy and professional development training, certification, education, and research. We hold our senior living executive conference every year.

And so absolutely we encourage people to consider membership as well, and we do have industry memberships at different levels for owners and operators. We also have ways for industry partners, like vendors and other relations, to be able to join in in membership that way. And we definitely see that there is value in joining in those efforts in addition to getting involved in Senior Living Works.

DG: Brent, I’ve got one more question for you. Do you have any Senior Living Works webinars or other events coming up? So now’s your chance to put in a plug for them.

BW: Darcy, we have webinars every month. And most recently we had one on high schools and technical schools, and making those connections. Our webinars planned for later this year, we’re going to do one on internships, apprenticeships, and other kinds of earn-and-learn programs. We’re going to have one on retention and rewarding our high performers. We’re also planning a webinar in managing multiple generations, something that many people have really seen are critical areas too.

And the thing about our webinars and joining as ambassador, when you join as an ambassador, you have access to our library of webinars. We have recorded them and they can all be watched, so even if people are coming in at this date, you can get up to speed on becoming an ambassador as well as the ones we’ve had so far, like working with community colleges and technical schools. So I encourage people to join now, be ready for and we’ll get you tied into our webinar series as well as our library of resources and the webinars we’ve had to date.

DG: All great topics coming up. I look forward to them. Thank you, Brent, for sharing this important initiative with us. And to all our listeners, thank you for taking the time to tune in. If you’d like to learn more about Senior Living Works and becoming a Senior Living Works Ambassador, visit SeniorLiving.Works. And if you’d like to learn more about SmartLinx and our fully integrated suite of workforce management solutions, including our Applicant Tracker which streamlines the recruiting process from job posting to onboarding, visit us online at

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