Why Senior Living Still Can’t Conquer Staff Training Problems

To reduce staff turnover and boost the bottom line, it makes sense that staff training and development programs should be a priority for senior living providers.

Most providers recognize the importance of such programs. However, many are also limited by resources and dragged down by external training requirements to implement strategies that would impact staff recruitment and financial results.

But as competition increases — both for workforce and revenue — this is an area where training will need to show more impact, according to Relias Learning’s “2015 State of Training” report, which includes survey responses from more than 900 senior care professionals, 18% of which hold executive or senior management positions.


The survey’s results present an interesting paradox for senior living providers, who face many competing demands and challenges in today’s senior care landscape.

“There’s a gap between where we are today and where we believe we should be,” says Gerald McCleery, vice president of market research at Relias, which provides online training programs to senior care organizations.

Shifting the Balance


Roughly two-thirds of respondents reported that their staff training programs significantly impact their top business priority, which was frequently identified as providing high-quality services.

However, less than half of executive respondents indicated that their staff training programs have a significant impact on either financial results or staff recruitment.

Additionally, there is a general belief that externally driven, “must-do training” consumes some of the resources that should be used to support other training aims, the report notes. These external factors include government regulations, rules or contract requirements, among other prerequisites.

“It has been the case historically, because of the emphasis on external requirements, that the metric associated with training was, ‘Did it get done?’ And ‘Did 100% of the people who had to have the training in fact have it?’” McCleery says. “In most organizations, if you can say, ‘These are the requirements, here’s the proof that they had the training,’ then that was pretty much the end of the story.”

However, the industry is beginning to see a shift — at least in aspirations — that could lead to more emphasis on internally driven staff training initiatives that would lead to more staff and company growth.

“By a pretty substantial margin across industries, people said that in the ideal situation, external requirements might be there but would have much less weight than their internal strategic needs,” McCleery says. “They’d like to shift the balance.”

In the Budget

Currently, providers spend an average of 5% or less of their budget on staff training, McCleery says, citing data from the recent survey. In a follow-up question that asked what percentage should be devoted to staff training, the average response was between 6% and 10% of the budget.

“Executives recognize that they’re probably not spending as much as they would like to, but they may be spending to the level that they feel they have the budget room to do so,” McCleery says.

While roughly 15% of providers say they already spend 6% to 10% of their budget on such efforts, about 30% of providers say they should be spending at that level.

“That’s a pretty clear indication that folks don’t believe [spending is] where it should be — but it may be the only place it can be given budget constraints,” McCleery says.

But nearly 60% of senior management predicted in the survey that training budgets will increase. Based on respondent comments, increased training funds will be used to train new staff, meet new regulations, meet the needs of a more diverse client population, and train a new generation of leadership in senior care organizations.

Resource Constraints

Keeping up with external compliance requirements is no small feat. Add to that budget constraints and limited resources and there’s not much leeway to devote more funds to staff training initiatives.

“Providers are constantly challenged with balancing the operational needs of the facility with meeting certain requirements,” McCleery says.

Logistics also present a challenge when it comes to face-to-face training.

Scheduling multiple training sessions, freeing people from their shifts, paying overtime or backfilling positions, reimbursing for travel costs if the training is off site, leasing or renting space off site — these are some of the challenges and costs that providers face.

To decrease some of that overhead, some providers have turned to “blended learning” techniques and the use of technology. Almost 75% of respondents in the survey are using some sort of blended learning — a combination of online and classroom training — on a regular basis.

“This appears to be an emerging best practice, with 27% of respondents indicating significant usage and published research studies showing its efficacy,” the report notes.

Respondents using blended learning indicated usage across a wide range of training, including advanced clinical topics, where online courses can be used as a precursor to face-to-face discussions and training sessions.

Additionally, 70% of respondents are using technology to track their training programs, with an increasingly smaller number (30%) still tracking training manually.

More than one-third of the respondents also report using a learning management system to support the assignment and tracking of their training programs.

While using these technologies is a good first step, providers still have a long way to go to implement more internally driven strategies to impact staff recruitment and the bottom line.

“It’s very challenging to live in both worlds simultaneously: the world of requirements and of aspirational aims,” McCleery says. “We think for that reason [the shift in balance] will happen, but fairly slowly. The resources are pretty finite.”

Written by Emily Study