The senior living industry and continuing care retirement communities in particular are gaining momentum as a career option for hospitality students as compelling demographics help increase awareness about the sector.
In early October, a group of senior living professionals gave a presentation on the industry to more than 200 students enrolled in Pennsylvania State University’s colloquium course for its hotel, restaurant, and institutional management program.
“It’s timely, because as the baby boomer generation are retiring, there are more and more opportunities for senior living,” says Professor A. L. “Bart” Bartlett, MBA, PH.D., associate professor and associate director of PSU’s School of Hospitality Management.
The demographic push is coinciding with the university’s recent efforts to make its hospitality students aware of those opportunities, he adds, at the request of a benefactor and alumnus who left a successful career at ARAMARK to be an executive director at a Connecticut CCRC. The alum, Joe Venucci, attributed his continued success at East Hill Woods, Inc. to his hospitality orientation, Bartlett says, and encouraged PSU to look into similar opportunities for its students.
The demonstrated success of two presenters who are executive directors with hospitality backgrounds served to bolster already compelling 65+ demographic projections, says Jim Glynn, owner of marketing and advertising firm GlynnDevins, citing resident satisfaction surveys.
“The move toward hospitality is very much going to enhance the marketing and sales of communities,” he says. “It will be more and more a place where people know they want to go, because the hospitality is good, instead of thinking ‘I’m not ready for that yet, I’ll wait til something happens.'”
Between 150 to 200 students graduate each year from PSU’s hospitality program, with about 250 currently taking the colloquium class. While Bartlett expects the majority will continue going to well-known hotel and restaurant employers such as Marriott, Hilton, and Darden, a growing number are expected to look to senior living as an alternative career track.
“Senior living will likely always be a niche in our student body,” he says. “But it’s definitely on a positive trajectory. It’s just at the beginning stages.”
The first time the class was offered, it was titled “Managing CCRCs,” recounts Bartlett, and only 22 students enrolled, in large part because they didn’t know what a CCRC was. The class is being offered again under the hospitality heading, and Bartlett is counting on at least 40 students taking the course.
“I’m optimistic we can have some real positive momentum,” says Bartlett, calling CCRC residents a “very rewarding clientele” who are regularly coming to dinner, ordering from a menu, and know and appreciate quality service and food.
“As a hotel manager, you try to make a guest’s day, and have them leave feeling better than when they checked in. At a CCRC, you’re not making peoples’ day–you’re making their life,” he says. “You can really make a difference in terms of peoples’ lives while doing all the things you like to with food, services, and lodging. That message has resonated with undergraduates.”
The approximately 40,000 hotels around the country vastly outnumber CCRCs, of which there are around 2,000, according to LeadingAge, the Penn State professor points out. But according to trade group the Assisted Living Federation of America, there are around 36,000 assisted living communities, often described as the intersection of hospitality and healthcare.
“We wanted to get across to [the students] the importance of hospitality to attract new residents,” Glynn says. “I think we opened up their eyes to what senior living is about. They have an awareness as to the health side, by it was a real eye opener to see that many residents arrive with no health problems, and successfully age in place.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace