Young Professionals Recruiting an ‘Army’ to Build Senior Living Workforce

Young professionals in senior living seem to have a few things in common. One is that they find their jobs rewarding. Another is that they never intended to make a career in this industry.

This is according to a few young, emerging leaders in the field of aging, who have banded together to raise awareness about career opportunities available in the aging services arena—and inspire 5 million students to pursue such opportunities by 2025.

As part of this “Connect the Ages” campaign, the group has just released a video featuring young workers talking about how they ended up in the field and why others should consider it.

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This video is meant to be the first in a series that can be utilized in school settings, at job fairs, on social media, recruiting websites, or through any other channels where they might reach millennials and other young people, and inspire them to think about a career in aging. Connect the Ages also will involve a grassroots campaign to raise the profile of senior housing and care by partnering with career counselors, teachers, and others, and by reaching out directly to students.

“We’re looking to build a funnel of young workers, starting with media and having this message that can move faster than any one person can, and then also going into the classroom,” 28-year-old Connect the Ages founder Amanda Cavaleri told Senior Housing News. “An army of young professionals in aging tackling one class each semester, that could be something pretty powerful.”

Meeting of the Minds

The genesis of the campaign can be traced back to early 2016, at a meeting of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Future Leaders Council (NIC FLC).

“We were all collectively talking about how much we enjoyed being in the senior housing field and how to get that message out,” said 34-year-old Joel Mendes, senior vice president in JLL’s seniors housing capital markets team. “Someone mentioned that the physical therapy industry produced a film where a bunch of folks talked about how they enjoy doing what they do. We said, maybe this is something we could do.”

To make this a reality, Mendes was joined by fellow NIC FLC member Summer Blizzard, 30, director of marketing strategy and business analytics at Louisville-based Elmcroft Senior Living. The two reached out to Cavaleri. She had experienced the industry’s workforce challenges firsthand after founding a senior care concierge service in Denver, after which she started Connect the Ages.

Cavaleri in turn brought on board 34-year-old Reid Estreicher, senior care lead at Samsung, who also has filmmaking expertise.

This team secured an on-site filming location at the LeadingAge conference in Indianapolis in fall 2016, and conducted dozens of interviews of young professionals from diverse branches of the senior living and care world, from care providers to architecture, finance, and technology companies.

After filming at that conference and at the subsequent Gerontological Society of America conference in New Orleans, Estreicher edited more than 15 hours of film down to a 4-minute clip, to start the current campaign.

In the process of filming and editing, the common threads in all the stories stood out to him.

“It struck me as odd that everybody said the same thing,” he said. “Almost 50 people said they fell into this space.”

Estreicher himself could relate, as could his Connect the Ages teammates. None had planned to end up in the world of aging services. If their campaign can change this status quo and raise awareness of aging-related careers among talented young people, it is worth all the effort to create this first video and others that are planned, Estreicher said.

“I think we have a huge opportunity here, a massive opportunity,” he said.

Spreading the Word

While it remains to be seen how effective Connect the Ages will be, there is evidence to support the approach, according to Cavaleri.

She started Connect the Ages about three years ago but then hit pause on the effort, feeling a need to try to gather more information about the workforce issue and what the most efficient and effective strategies might be to tackle it.

She took a position working remotely for the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, through which she began to gather information. Another influential experience occurred in Denver, after she was invited by a professor of human development and psychology to speak to a class of mostly freshmen and sophomores about the aging process and working with seniors.

“[The professors said] my students haven’t really related to me on this material in about a decade, maybe if you come in and talk to them about what you know about aging they might listen a little more,” Cavaleri said.

The students were receptive to her message, to judge by surveys they filled out before and after hearing her speak for 30 minutes. Their interest both in working with seniors and volunteering with them ticked up, those surveys showed.

Among the takeaways for Cavaleri: Young people like herself can be influential in spreading the word about aging and related career opportunities, and general classes such as this one are particularly good targets for communicating this message.

“Most of the students didn’t have aging on their radar at all,” she said. “If you’re going to spend your time talking to young people, instead of going into a gerontology class or one on population health, maybe it’s better to go into these more general classes, around students’ decision making time about majors and where to intern.”

It’s an idea that resonates with Elmcroft’s Blizzard.

“Young students in college, they’re not looking for a job in senior housing,” she said. “But they know they want a marketing job, et cetera.”

With Connect the Ages now revitalized, its videos and other recruiting tools could be well-timed for providers like Elmcroft, which right now is hiring a new head of recruiting and overhauling its strategy, with an eye toward young talent.

In addition to using social media platforms to reach these potential hires, Elmcroft likely will be seeking more interns at local universities, technical colleges, and community colleges, Blizzard said.

Along with spreading the word about careers related to aging, the Connect the Ages group also can testify to the strong mentorship and opportunities for advancement in the sector. They all have received strong support from their employers not only for their own careers, but for their work on Connect the Ages.

And although the initiative is bootstrapped in terms of funding, it also has received support and collaborated with major industry groups such as NIC, GSA, and LeadingAge, Mendes said. Senior housing provider association Argentum also has been supportive, and the group is in talks with the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA).

It’s this type of support and exposure that Connect the Ages will need to amplify its message, and amplification is its primary goal at this point.

“If there’s a call to action, it’s this: use [our videos] however you’d like, on your recruitment page, YouTube, on your listserv, embed them, [use them] when you go guest lecture, use them however you want,” Cavaleri said.

Mendes concurred.

“We would like to share this message with as many young people as possible,” he summed up.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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