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How the Senior Living Industry Was Well Prepared for COVID and Beyond

September 3, 2020 by Drew Repp

Nearly every industry and company was caught off guard by COVID-19. While a strategic plan with a small section on disaster response or resiliency might have been on a dust covered shelf, most of us were unprepared. To a large degree, this is understandable. Sales targets, marketing plans, product rollouts, and many other worthy goals tend to garner more attention. However, talent and workforce needs have been a primary goal of most industries. And by being focused on this, a senior living organization was well prepared to support both dislocated workers and the members they serve.

An industry coming into its own

The senior living industry has an annual economic impact of $247 billion. A staggering number. By comparison, the auto manufacturing industry’s annual economic impact is $206 billion and pharmaceutical manufacturing is $265 billion. And yet, even more surprising, as Brent Weil points out, “What has been really interesting coming into senior living is it’s an industry that’s fairly new. So really over the last 30 years, it’s been growing really strongly, but has been maturing now.”

Brent Weil, VP of Workforce Development at Argentum, the nation's leading senior living association.

Brent Weil serves as Vice President of Workforce Development at Argentum.

Weil is Vice President of Workforce Development at Argentum, the leading national association exclusively dedicated to supporting companies operating professionally managed, resident-centered senior living communities and the older adults and families they serve. Since joining Argentum in 2018, he’s been focused on finding and retaining talent for its members.

“That has been consistently, far and away, the most significant challenge that we face. And so I was tasked initially with putting forward solutions to help address that as quickly as possible,” said Weil.

Quickly as possible ended up being even faster than anyone would have thought. More on that in a moment. First, Argentum began rolling out initiatives and tools to help members find that talent.

Tools for senior living employers and jobseekers

Not surprisingly, one of the barriers keeping talent from pursuing positions in senior living is perception. As with many careers, jobseekers don’t actually know what roles in senior living are like. Senior Living Works was launched to combat this. Designed largely for senior living providers, the goal is to speak with one voice about careers and serve as a mechanism for providers to develop the right partnerships with education and workforce agencies.

Highlighting careers and opportunities in the industry, Senior Living Works includes an engagement toolkit, resources for providers to assist in their talent recruitment, and video content showcasing professionals in the industry.

While the initiative continues to be successful, Weil and Argentum recognized that something else was needed. To gain more credibility, the stories and careers the site highlighted needed to be backed with data.

Workforce Insight Report provides detailed data on the senior living industry.Enter the Education Pipeline tool. Using data from Emsi’s API, Education Pipeline allows users to identify programs of study, completions, degrees and certifications. Queries can be conducted at both the state and county level, helping employers identify partners in education, answer questions around the talent pipeline, and determine which programs are delivering the right talent. The pipeline tool also helps jobseekers by providing a quick way to jump start their search for a program that fits their career goals. Their exploring careers site then builds even more information on careers in senior living.

Finally, as a tool to assist in HR and operation decision making, Argentum leverages Emsi data to deliver their Workforce Insight Report. Diving into critical occupations, wage rates, workforce trends, and more, the region specific report provides a nuanced view of the senior living market. The report can also compare data points across multiple regions.

Moving quickly on their strategic plan

All of this—Senior Living Works, the Education Pipeline tool, career information, and Workforce Insight Report—was about driving the development of talent for the senior living industry. Essentially, creating an industry specific career center. Then COVID hit.

“It had been in our strategic workforce plan over the next three years to build out a more robust career center. And then when COVID-19 hit, it basically went from a three year plan into what am I going to launch in the next two weeks?”

But here’s where Argentum was more prepared than most industries to respond quickly in a tangible way to the crisis. Because they had been focused on talent over the last few years, they were ready to pivot quickly and connect the supply of dislocated workers with the existing demand in senior living.

Senior Living FastMatch launched as a way to make that connection. Those in industries hit hardest by job loss—hospitality, retail, restaurant—have the primary skill necessary to excel in senior living: customer service.

“For people that really do have a service mentality, for people that like to make a difference, for people that really enjoy interacting with people in many ways, they make great careers,” says Weil.

Skill transferability into senior living roles.

Emsi’s Skills Transferability report reveals a near perfect match of skills held by a Retail Salesperson with those of a Personal Care Aide.

FastMatch uses artificial intelligence to evaluate the best fit for candidates and identifies the top jobs for them in their geographic region. It is garnering more than 2,000 applications a day, and that number is growing.

And when it comes to knowledge, skills, and abilities, that fit is often a really good one. A quick comparison of a common senior living role, personal care aide, with a job that has seen massive layoffs, retail salesperson, shows major overlap in skills. In fact, almost a perfect overlap.

“It really is about caregivers. They’re positions that typically do not need a lot of existing credentials or training, and we’ll train people for them,” says Weil.

What’s next for senior living?

In the competition for talent, businesses and industries as a whole can’t afford to let their foot off the gas. And so even with all they have rolled out over the last few years, Argentum recognizes there is more work to do. Supporting career pathways, especially through apprenticeships, is a priority.

“The big place that we’ve been really headed has been around apprenticeship. As much as we have focused on the image of the industry, on connecting to schools, on building recruitment, we recognize that maintaining our talent, growing our talent, the retention of our workers, is an even more important step that we really should be taking for long term health and growth,” says Weil.

Argentum recently received a 4-year, $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to lead the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program, through which it projects attaining more than 7,000 apprentices in 14 states.

Leveraging data in apprenticeship and career pathways will continue. “Talent matching and looking at competencies of careers is something where Emsi is going to play a role,” says Weil.

And while data, workforce programs, and engagement efforts are being deployed, Weil and Argentum remain focused on why the work is being done.

“It’s not just an opportunity to put people to work, it really is an opportunity for us to provide that kind of meaningful employment for people out there, and doing things that really are important at this time,” concluded Weil.

If you’re looking to showcase the talent of your industry or region, or trying to determine strategies to fill talent gaps, Emsi data can help. Get in touch and start using data to tell your story and solve problems.

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