Argentum’s 2021 Forecast Report points to a major change in the senior living workforce environment. To understand its importance, we need to look back.
The numbers of senior living jobs have had an almost 30-year growing streak. Since 1990, assisted living communities added jobs at an average annual rate of 3.9 percent, and CCRCs at a rate of 3.7 percent. It continually beat the United States private-sector job growth rate—a 1.2 percent average annual increase.
This procession of years of increase brought plenty of challenges to the industry. Year after year, leaders needed to add more tools to their kits to find and keep top-quality talent, from the associate level on up.
With help from partners including OnShift, Argentum developed resources: Education about the many careers and opportunities available in senior living. Connections to grants and education help. Job boards, recruiting sites and tips, tracking retention. We know that quality associates are key to quality senior living—so together, Argentum and partners asked, studied, researched, and taught about the factors that lead to strong retention: Feeling a sense of purpose, knowing they are heard, having career paths open, and flexibility in schedules and benefits.
But coronavirus knocked the power out of the record growth: 2020 marked the first decline in senior living employment. Jobs are 1.7 percent down, as of August 2020 figures.
Granted, senior living’s job decline is far less alarming than that of the overall U.S. private sector, which was down 6.2 percent as of August 2020.
But it still indicates a new environment for senior living jobs. If we are no longer in a tight employment market, how might this change our priorities and goals?
The answer is: We won’t change much. Quality is non-negotiable. Training will always be needed, because of the different needs and cultures of providers and communities. We will continue to look in new and promising places for recruiting talent. The past year has for some served to strengthen their sense of purpose and desire to make a career in senior living.
But the past year has also brought by necessity a greater flexibility at work, particularly for associates. They needed flexible schedules and benefits such as childcare, groceries, and transportation help to care for their families, to reduce their risk of infection, and to provide care above and beyond.
Also in the 2021 Forecast Report, a selection of Certified Directors of Assisted Living (CDALs) surveyed pointed to new prominence of some aspects of care. Associates now must be able to help alleviate top concerns CDALs noted: Improving socialization and avoiding social isolation, and ensuring safety and infection prevention and control. These have always been important in communities, but they now have an added intentionality of focus.
Also cited by CDALs as concerns are providing emotional support for associates, helping staff take on flexible roles, staying in budgets for staffing and overtime, and of course the costs and time taken in testing, personal protective equipment, and now, vaccination programs.
Moving into 2021, the industry will need all the recruitment and retention knowledge and resources developed during the tight job market—and more. The 2021 Forecast Report also projects that the number of senior living jobs will rise 3.0 percent—the strongest annual gain since 2015.