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Building A Path For Success: Career Development In Senior Care

February 2, 2022 | Peter Corless


We often say that mission is what drives someone to take a job in senior care. They have a calling to care for others and often have had experience caring for an elderly loved one in the past. This mission-driven mindset is part of what makes this profession and our workforce so special.

But to ensure the success of your organization and the industry as a whole, we need to balance those who are mission-driven with those who are career-driven as well.

According to Gallup, those who invest in employee development are two times as likely to retain employees than those who do not. This makes the need for professional development, training and leadership programs more essential now than ever before.

Caregiver Career Ladders

There are a number of effective programs for helping caregivers build their careers. Nearly 44% of senior care providers say they offer or plan to offer tuition assistance in 2022. This type of assistance is most often offered to those attending nursing school programs to become an LPN or RN.

Many organizations also offer career ladder programs for nursing assistants that allow candidates to move from something like a CNA 1 position to a CNA 2 role. These programs are often very selective and allow these caregivers to learn additional clinical skills and receive ongoing education. Some organizations will also add additional duties such as mentoring responsibilities or participation in new hire orientations and interviews. Many will also include a pay increase as nursing assistants move up the ranks. In my experience, those who complete a program like this are often retained at a higher rate.

Leadership Training & Development

Managers play an essential role in ensuring staff are satisfied and account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Bringing on new leaders from outside your organization can be a long process, which is why many providers would much rather take a “grow your own” approach.

Many senior care organizations find great success in programs that allow existing employees to receive the skills and certifications necessary to become an Administrator or Executive Director or Director of Nursing. These kinds of programs typically run for 9 to 12 months, depending on the trainees’ experience and existing skills. And because you are essentially paying them to grow into their new role, it’s a great way to highlight just how invested you are in the development of your employees and their future successes. Once implemented, I have seen these programs contribute to higher overall retention.

Outside of these leader-in-training programs, it’s also essential to make sure you’re providing leadership with ongoing management training and development. Doing so will give them the tools they need to continuously improve as a leader and ensure they’re managing teams in a way that will boost the employee experience and drive retention.

Regular training for all managers is a great place to start, but it’s also important to proactively look for opportunities to provide additional coaching as issues arise. Many OnShift customers use the pulse surveys within our employee engagement software, OnShift Engage, to monitor satisfaction across teams and departments. This information serves as a key indicator into whether or not a manager is leading effectively.

In addition, for leaders who may be struggling, many companies will bring in an outside coach who is skilled in helping leaders identify their shortcomings and provide training and guidance to help make them successful.

Programs For Non-Direct Care Staff

In long-term care and senior living we often place a lot of focus on programs that develop our caregivers and nursing. But as we all know, those in non-direct care roles such as dining and housekeeping are just as essential to the success of our organizations and the satisfaction of our residents.

Over the years, there’s been a growing trend for career paths that focus on those non-caregiver positions. Many times, these programs are driven based on areas of the organization where recruiting and retention are the most problematic.

For example, one provider was having difficulty recruiting chefs and dining services directors. As a result, they created both a Chef In Training and Dining Services Director In Training program. This helped provide clear career paths for those in the program and provided another grow-your-own solution for filling positions for which there was a growing need.

These types of programs can be done in any department. The key is to make sure they offer a direct path to a new step in their career.

Identifying Leaders In Senior Care

As you roll out your next career path, make sure you have a plan in place for identifying those potential future leaders. Start by reaching out to your local leadership such as Directors of Nursing, Administrators and Executive Directors to see who stands out.

Look at performance reviews from managers and supervisors as well as attendance records. Many OnShift customers find the rewards dashboard in our employee engagement software to be useful in quickly identifying those high performers. Employees are ranked based on the reward points they receive for key attendance behaviors such as punching in and out on time or not calling off. It also considers points assigned for contributions like going above and beyond for a resident, their family or a fellow co-worker.

Career paths are just one benefit providers can offer to help boost retention and make their organizations more attractive to new hires. For more on how providers are investing in the employee experience, download our 2021 Workforce 360 Survey Report.

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About Peter Corless

Peter Corless is Executive Vice President of Enterprise Development for OnShift. Peter is a recognized HR leader in post-acute care and is well-known for his achievements at some of the country’s largest post-acute care organizations, including Kindred Healthcare and Genesis HealthCare. As an experienced, chief administrative and human resources officer within these organizations, he developed strategies that reduced turnover, improved recruiting and hiring strategies, and reduced labor costs.

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