What Senior Housing Providers Can Learn from Military Recruitment, Training

The senior housing industry is on the brink of a major labor shortageand the anxieties that this news has caused in industry executives are well-documented.

Not all hope is lost, however. As it turns out, the senior housing industry may have a great deal to learn from hiring practices in the United States military, according to Bruce Tulgan, founder of workplace research, training and consulting firm RainmakerThinking, Inc.

The U.S. military and senior housing communities undoubtedly offer different working environments—but hiring managers in both sectors must deal with similar obstacles. After all, they’re both seeking to attract workers to jobs that require physical labor, offer low pay and can be downright unpleasant at times.


“One of the things the U.S. Armed Forces does very, very well is they manage to hire from limited talent pools for very difficult, dirty, dangerous positions that don’t pay very well—but they manage to hire very well,” Tulgan explained to Senior Housing News. “That’s something to look at.”

The hiring practices used by the military are by no means perfect; the Army, for instance, recently struggled to meet recruiting numbers, due in part to the favorable U.S. economy and heightened competition from private sector employers that can pay higher wages, The Associated Press reported in April.

Still, senior housing hiring managers feeling down on their luck might want to look at their military counterparts for a confidence boost.


Stronger, faster, better

Too often, senior housing hiring managers blame outside sources for the difficulty they face in recruiting and retaining frontline workers. Tulgan heard this sentiment when he presented in May at the 2018 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in San Diego.

“In senior housing, [people may say,] ‘We don’t have our pick of all the talent in the world, we can’t always pay well, a lot of the jobs are dirty, difficult—it’s impossible [to hire],'” he said.

Tulgan’s firm has worked with the U.S. Armed Forces since 1995. As a result, he knows that it’s incorrect for hiring managers in any industry—including senior housing—to point fingers.

“[The military] manages to get people on board and up to speed very effectively,” he explained. “The way they do that is by putting their mission forward by selling a value proposition to potential employees that’s about not just serving a mission, but its about, ‘Hey, come here, we have something to offer, we’re going to build you up, make you better, teach you valuable skills, not just specific skills that are relevant to this work.'”

Essentially, the U.S. military is selling its potential hires a great on-boarding program, and using on-boarding to help set new employees up for successful, long-term tenures.

“[They say,] ‘We’re going to make you stronger, faster, better—we’re not just going to throw you into a sink-or-swim environment,'” he said.

The U.S. Army’s basic combat training is renowned for being an intense program that “transforms civilians into soldiers,” as the Army’s website puts it. The 10-week course is essentially a rigorous on-boarding process that lays the physical and mental groundwork for a career in the Army.

While it’s not exactly basic training, senior living providers also have cued in on the importance of a comprehensive and well-designed on-boarding experience. Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities is among these providers and has great results to show for it.

The senior housing provider, which manages 21 communities in four states, recently became the first aging services company to have each of its communities certified as a Great Place to Work. The provider attributes its certifications in part to its “Traveling the First 40” on-boarding approach, which helps guide new associates through their first 40 days on the job.

Seeking out potential

In their own ways, some senior housing providers have sought to make their existing employees stronger, better and faster. Pennsylvania-based Wesley Enhanced Living, for example, has a vice president of human potential—not a vice president of human resources.

This terminology and the thought processes behind it have served Wesley well. The non-profit provider operates six continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) in Pennsylvania and, like Juniper Communities, was recently certified as a Great Place to Work.

Instead of hiring new employees based solely on their measurable skills—such as servers who have explicitly waited tables before—Wesley’s talent acquisition managers hire new employees based on what can’t be taught on the job: potential to learn and grow successfully.

At the same time, Wesley continuously looks to help its current employees advance within the organization.

“We look at our current staff and identify we call ‘high-potential employees,'” Pat Lamoreaux, Wesley’s vice president of human potential, told Senior Housing News. These are employees Wesley believes can play a role in succession planning at the company.

Wesley’s director of nursing was once a CNA working for the organization, Lamoreaux said.

“We look to develop from within,” she explained. “We want [our employees] to grow.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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