by Alan Butler
Erickson Senior Living is one of the largest U.S. senior living providers, with more than 28,000 residents and nearly 15,000 employees. CEO Alan Butler shares his thoughts on the labor crisis in senior living, and how Erickson has responded.
For all the operational strains the Great Resignation has imposed on companies during the past two-plus years, this reshuffling of the workforce is only a harbinger of a more pronounced employment challenge that promises to impact the senior housing industry for years to come.
As a growing number of Baby Boomers reach and pass the age of 65, providers will be presented with a major growth opportunity. But the surge in generational retirements fueling this demand will simultaneously result in a significant reduction in the pool of seasoned professionals available to meet an escalating need for top talent.
When I reflect on the challenges of leading a company that requires expertise spanning several distinct business disciplines—from real estate development to dining and hospitality to health care—nothing concerns me more than securing the right talent. After all, the services we offer are only as good as the people who provide them.
The Great Resignation has reset many of the rules for recruiting top talent. Job candidates of all types have been rethinking what is most important to them—and what they expect from prospective employers. This is an inflection point that presents us with an opportunity to elevate our industry in the minds of a highly selective workforce.
Managers who do not adapt to this dynamic are destined to underperform, impacting the entire industry’s ability to meet the demands of a growing senior population. Despite the tight labor market, we have hired more than 3,400 new dining services and health care employees in the past six months.
Here are some of the steps we’ve taken to overcome the shortage in available talent each of us faces.
Modernizing the talent search
During the pandemic, staffing issues across all industries were impacted by illness, quarantines, family issues and overall reluctance to work in close physical proximity with others. We were not immune. A drop in staffing levels across the Erickson Senior Living enterprise—particularly in the areas of health care and dining services—ultimately led to the adoption of a new mindset on recruitment. We began to apply resources to pursue prospective team members, from entry level to leadership positions, with the same creativity, urgency and innovation as we do prospective residents.
We are doing things we have never done before to recruit new employees: devoting more time, resources and creativity; bringing in experts and working with new partners; and leveraging the power of technology to help us effectively address the challenge.
Applying for jobs at Erickson Senior Living is easier than ever. The company invested in innovative tools and personnel that streamlined the process to ensure health care and dining candidates could quickly identify appropriate open positions, complete an online application that goes directly to a centralized corporate recruitment team, and receive a prompt reply.
We think of this as a quick response team. Each job candidate’s inquiry is answered with the same degree of urgency as that of a prospective resident. We immediately establish a preliminary relationship to build upon. In this jobseeker’s market, response time is of the essence. Every moment qualified candidates aren’t talking to Erickson Senior Living is a moment they might be talking to another prospective employer.
We are also segmenting our recruitment marketing efforts more aggressively than we have previously. A growing menu of digital platforms enables us to reach targeted audiences with ever-greater precision.
While Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Facebook and similar sites are valuable when seeking health care professionals, for example, their worth can be more limited when searching for front-of-house dining staff. This is why we are also increasing our spend in 2022 with the likes of Instagram, Spotify, Snapchat and Pandora, which have greater reach and resonance among candidates for certain dining positions, like hosts, hostesses and wait staff.
Messaging is critical
Making the financial investment and identifying the best platforms to use are only parts of the equation.
Perhaps no profession has been more impacted by the pandemic than nursing. Over the past two-plus years, nurses working in hospitals, in particular, have been pushed to the brink. While these individuals continue to find enormous personal reward in their careers, many are understandably finding that they need a more sustainable work-life balance.
We developed a digital campaign to directly address this audience. We wanted to make the benefits of working at Erickson Senior Living, including flexible hours, competitive compensation, and career development opportunities in a family-like atmosphere, crystal clear—and clearly different than what nurses’ current work environments might be like.
The response to our initial messaging has been unmistakable. Thus far, our social media platforms have seen click-through rates 130% greater than industry benchmarks for registered nurses and 415% higher for certified nursing assistants.
To compete for front-of-house dining staff, at the start of the campaign we designed creative content to spread the word that we are actively hiring qualified students for select positions and to promote our $500 sign-on bonuses and scholarship opportunities. Again, we leveraged our workplace as a differentiator—earlier leave times than restaurants, for one—for those who may have been considering more traditional entry level jobs.
To attract high-quality candidates for back-of-house positions, we amplified messaging around sign-on bonuses of up to $2,000 for chefs, cooks, and kitchen workers as well as our full benefits package and paid leave. We know that the pandemic forced many of these professionals out of the hospitality industry in search of exactly this type of stability. The ability to provide these benefits is unique in the dining services industry. We’re working to make sure talented, experienced culinary professionals know they have options beyond the grind of traditional restaurant environments.
They also have the option to reach for more, by continuing their education with Erickson University’s School of Culinary Arts, a professional culinary training program offered right within the workplace, where employees can earn the skills and industry certifications to build a lifelong career. And this is just one example; we continue to evolve and expand the highly immersive programs offered by Erickson University to prepare leaders across all disciplines. These types of opportunities for training and development are one of the most important tools we have to elevate the industry among today’s highly selective workforce.
Given demographic trends, the most successful managers in our industry over the next 10 years will be those that adapt to attract the best team members. We are doing things we’ve never done before to address this unprecedented challenge and position Erickson Senior Living for success.
The senior living industry should be considered a destination—not a layover—for career-driven people with the passion to serve.
Alan Butler has been the Chief Executive Officer of Erickson Senior Living since 2010. Previously, he spent 14 years as treasurer of Allegis Group, Inc., one of the largest talent management companies in the world. Alan also served as president of Redwood Capital Investments, a private investment company focused on investing in privately held companies, real estate, health care, and other medium to large sized companies. Currently, Alan is the board chair of the University of Maryland Medical System.