Senior Living Industry Seeks to Expand a Covid-19 Hospitality Hiring Wave

Senior living providers have succeeded in recruiting displaced hospitality workers during Covid-19 — but some positions are harder to hire for than others.

Just ask Adam Kaplan, founder and CEO of Solera Senior Living, a Denver-based senior living provider with three senior living communities under management today and another six in the works. In March, Kaplan and his team scrambled to recruit hospitality sector workers who lost their jobs in Covid-related layoffs and furloughs. And that strategy has paid off in the roughly four months since, particularly with regard to hiring community-level managers and corporate staff.

“We tried to recruit for a culinary director position in Denver, but it was really challenging,” Kaplan said. “Then Covid happened, and all of a sudden, we knew we could pretty much go after anyone in the market. So, the environment has changed dramatically.”

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But while it’s gotten easier to hire leadership positions in the post-Covid world, Solera is also finding it more challenging than before to fill frontline positions like nurses, caregivers and medical technicians. That has pushed the company to cast a wider net when searching for new workers, and to become more creative in how it hires them.

“We’ll continue to keep an open mind as we’re growing, looking at talent both internally in the industry and externally,” Kaplan said. “And we’ll make sure that we’re being open to people that have a strong skillset, but might not have senior living experience.”

But the winds could be changing again, given that new unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans are still not certain and that providers, workforce technology firms and industry associations are all still working to build momentum toward hiring hospitality workers.

Hospitality hit hard

The hospitality industry was among the hardest-hit sectors when the Covid-19 pandemic roared into view earlier this year.

The leisure and hospitality sector has shed 4.8 million jobs since February, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stats shared by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

And although the leisure and hospitality added 592,000 jobs in July, recent snapshots from across the sector have painted a dire employment picture. Many hotels have been operating with less than half of their normal pre-pandemic staffing levels, the American Hotel & Lodging Association noted. And nearly 100,000 dining venues that reopened since the pandemic began were forced to close again by state or local mandates as of late July, according to data from the National Restaurant Association.

The U.S. unemployment rate hit 10.2% in July. Meanwhile, the $600 unemployment relief check that many Americans relied on to make ends meet during the pandemic is gone, with questions as to what, if anything, will replace it.

Technology companies which are focused on senior living staffing have reported a noticeable uptick in interest among job applicants in recent months.

Arena — a Baltimore-based data analytics firm with a predictive hiring platform for the senior living industry — has grown the number of buildings in which it’s deployed by about 70% since April, according to Chairman and CEO Michael Rosenbaum. April is the month Arena launched a new “sourcing product” aimed at finding potential workers who aren’t in an organization’s current applicant pool, such as hospitality workers.

“We would go directly to folks in the [hospitality] world through a variety of channels, like social media, job boards, schools and community partners,” Rosenbaum told SHN. “By doing that, we were able to draw more folks onto the platform.”

Senior living provider association Argentum partnered with the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) in April to launch Senior Living FastMatch, an online resource that uses Arena’s talent discovery platform to match candidates to positions in senior living. FastMatch has fielded more than 45,000 jobseekers and has seen a marked increase in internet traffic since mid-July.

Kare — a recently launched staffing app meant to connect senior housing and care communities with workers — has seen so much interest from former hospitality workers wanting to get on its platform that it has had to stop taking applications from them, according to CEO Charles Turner. That includes former cooks, housekeepers and other restaurant and hotel workers wanting to get into the senior living industry.

“We were getting about 75 to 100 applicants a day, just for hospitality workers,” Turner told SHN. “We have way more than we can ever supply shifts for, at least in our current state of evolution.”

Although it’s clear the new employment landscape contributed to more job applications and inquiries from hospitality, retail, and restaurant workers than before Covid-19, there are still some barriers to successfully recruiting them, according to Brent Weil, vice president of workforce development for Argentum.

Weil believes the $600 unemployment payments through the CARES Act had helped suppress some interest from jobseekers — though some economists who have studied the benefits think it’s more complicated than that. There is also a perception among other prospective applicants that senior living poses a greater risk of exposure to Covid-19, he said.

Given the fact that Covid-19 has only complicated staffing woes for the senior living industry, providers would do well to overcome these and other obstacles. And, many of these laid-off or furloughed workers aren’t likely to return to their old jobs anytime soon.

“It appears likely that for large sectors of the American economy, the furloughs and hours reductions this spring will increasingly turn to permanent layoffs,” Weil said. “We believe senior living should be top of mind for individuals seeking new careers, and we are committed to working with our members and partners, like Arena, to reach those future workers.”

Solera’s recruitment strategy

While Solera has found it’s much easier than before to attract community or corporate leaders from the hospitality world, the company is still taking a proactive approach to potential employees, especially on business networking sites like LinkedIn.

When Solera does reach out to job candidates, the messages are crafted in a way that hospitality workers can relate to, with lots of emphasis on innovation, next-generation culture and being a leader in hospitality. Solera also makes it a point to talk about how the company grows and nurtures new talent.

“There are certain people who are taking a step back to join our organization, or maybe they were on the cusp of a promotion with their previous employer,” Kaplan said. “It’s a good story to tell people that, hey, we’re in a great position.”

Some Argentum members have also reported successful recruitment campaigns that highlight the career opportunities in senior living, with social media being an important component of that messaging, according to Weil.

Solera has had a much harder time filling frontline positions. Part of the problem is that, unlike for leadership positions, recruiters can’t wait for long for the right candidate to show up. Like Weil, Kaplan also wonders how much of an effect the $600 weekly unemployment benefits have had on recruiting.

“We can’t just go to Hilton in a market and ask them, ‘Hey, what housekeepers have you furloughed?’ and then hire them,” Kaplan said. “We haven’t found a pathway yet that we can pull people from hospitality into senior living.”

In the meantime, the company has broadened its search for new workers. Solera recently implemented iCIMS, a cloud-based recruiting platform, to streamline its hiring process and gain better visibility on what’s working and what’s not. Solera also has focused on hiring experienced leaders who can hopefully attract others into the senior living field.

“If you get good people in management positions who are high performers, and who people respect, they will attract other talent,” Kaplan said. “The most important thing we can do is provide a great experience for people when they join the organization.”

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