To Turn the Workforce Challenge Around, Accelerate Innovation
October 12, 2021 | James Balda
The restrictions of the past 18 months have the effect of making us doubly grateful and enthusiastic when we can see each other live and in person. And when we get that chance, we want to make the most of every minute.
At Argentum and OnShift alike, we know a critical piece of that future is ensuring there’s a growing and talented workforce to care for the burgeoning population of aging Americans. Before the pandemic, we already knew the industry needed to recruit 1.4 million senior care professionals by 2025.
What recent workforce data has also shown us is that the industry lost over 87,000 jobs during the first 17 months of the pandemic—an 8.9 percent decline from pre-pandemic data, taking the industry back to its February 2016 employment level. And the industry is recovering more slowly than the overall private sector.
Rerouting this trend requires putting innovation on the fast track. For instance, through its participation and sponsorship, OnShift introduced ideas ranging from how to find and tap into new talent pools, to improving engagement.
Another advancing innovation is Argentum’s Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program—HAEP (argentum.org/haep). Launched in 2020, the program is being funded by a four-year Department of Labor grant and is intended to address the skills gap in health care and health care IT occupations by expanding apprenticeship pathways for positions including CNAs, LPNs, RNs, and rehab techs. It is also creating new apprenticeship programs for health care leadership positions such as nursing directors and executive directors.
Argentum is also asking Congress to address the need for human infrastructure by bolstering workforce development programs, expanding VISA programs for eligible caregivers, and improving access to childcare for caregivers.
Finally, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) efforts are critical to meeting workforce needs. Data indicates that as an industry, we are often doing better on average than the overall national labor force—four out of five people working in senior living are women and 44 percent of the senior living workforce is made up of persons of color. But we can do more, and we need to do more, together, particularly when it comes to career-pathing and executive-level representation.
That’s why earlier this year, Argentum teamed up with the American Seniors Housing Association and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care in a collaboration on this important initiative.
The Senior Living DEI Coalition has begun working with industry representatives and third-party experts to develop a long-term roadmap to advancing DE&I practices all across the senior living industry. We expect to emerge from this collaboration with the necessary information, tools, resources, and momentum for industry stakeholders to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive practices customized for their respective businesses. This collaboration of industry-leading groups is truly an initiative working to make senior living better, together.
By the end of the three days, it was clear that “we need to shift from being reactive to proactive,” as I said in my remarks at the conference. The industry and its workforce have a host of new challenges—and only new ways of thinking can overcome them.
This is an opportunity for us to engage and lead on what will perhaps be the most significant domestic public policy debate in a generation: how to care for America's seniors. I hope your voice will be part of it.
One way you can help to build momentum around solving the senior living workforce challenge is to join us December 5-8 in Amelia Island, Fla., for a gathering of executive owner/operator leaders for our Senior Living Leadership Summit. In an intimate setting designed for productive collaboration, we’ll be discussing key issues including the future of our workforce. You can learn more and register today at leadershipsummit.argentum.org. Special thanks to OnShift for its Elite Sponsorship of the event.
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James Balda is a guest author for OnShift’s blog and the President and CEO of Argentum, the largest national association exclusively dedicated to senior living communities and the seniors and families they serve.