steve Fleming news views aging workforce challenges

What Keeps Me Awake at Night? Our Future Workforce

Sometimes I am asked about the aspects of my job that keep me up at night. These days, it’s a challenge that I’m confident leaves many of my colleagues awake, too: Maintaining and growing a talented workforce.

That’s not easy, for a myriad of unique and interconnected factors. Recruitment, in general, is facing a broad challenge – the overall healthcare field is wanting, not just aging services. Whether we’re looking for someone on our dining staff or a skilled-care nurse, this is both a macro and micro hurdle for our industry.

Demand overwhelms supply

The basic formula for business – supply and demand – is no different for the aging services field, and our industry is facing sobering news from prognosticators. Consider a few trends. Every day an estimated 10,000 Americans turn 65, and nearly three-fourths of these older adults will require long-term care services. Over the next several years, this overwhelming demand for services will more than make its presence felt. It threatens no less than to engulf us.

But what about supply, in this case, the caregivers to provide these services? The pipeline of talented, compassionate, experienced and available workers is, simply, drying up. It has been estimated that within five quick years the United States will need a staggering 1 million more home health aides to adequately deliver aging services. Concurrently, however, a projected 1 million nurses are setting their sights on retirement.

A dog-eat-dog HR world

As a result, it will likely be every aging services provider for itself in the hard-fought scrabble to attract and retain talented staff. I can clearly see this battlefield forming on the horizon as recruiters find themselves in bidding wars for the best prospects and fine-tune benefits and other perks to ultimately dazzle and attract. May the most generous and creative job offer win!

This approach doesn’t solve the looming crisis in the short-term, let alone the long-term. Rather, we must look way back down the career path to map toward a bright future far ahead.

Reshaping ageist perspectives

The ageism in this country that we are trying to overcome includes the perspectives of young people. Future students contemplating their careers are exposed to all forms of ageism as spread by the mainstream media and pop culture. This has created seemingly insurmountable challenges when it comes to them gearing toward working in our field.

Education does us no favors, by failing to provide a critical curriculum with which to enlighten – and even inspire – someone toward a rewarding career in aging services. Until this spark is lighted in the minds of our youth, far too few people will enter the aging services career pipeline.

As parents and mentors, we need to help our youth see older adults more accurately and compassionately. And our schools must provide curriculum to enhance this understanding. This new perspective could help compel someone in the direction of a career in aging services.

Retain and attract

Then, if we’re fortunate to get them in the pipeline, what exactly is needed to ensure they remain inspired and fulfilled in our field?

For starters, efficient recruitment processes are important to secure good talent before they slip through the cracks.

Certainly, compensation is a key factor, too – there are many other fields within healthcare with high-paying jobs. There’s no more basic an incentive than fair and competitive pay for hard work – let’s at least start by valuing the good work of our caregivers financially.

We also are faced now with a generational perspective, one I think of as “gig-oriented” versus a career path rooted in longer-term, loyalty-driven “staying put.” How can we get talented team members to stick around?

A positive culture in the work environment not only encourages staff to stay on board but doing so also sets an example to top talent mulling a move to your organization. And to achieve this, you should start at the top. According to research by LeadingAge, “Leadership development has been known to increase leadership engagement, which in turn, increases staff engagement. When employees are engaged, they’re more committed to their jobs and provide better care, resulting in increased patient satisfaction.”

Many elements can make up an attractive retention model, including a robust employee recognition program, ongoing career development opportunities, enticing employment referral rewards, new hire mentoring and much more. We ultimately have tremendous control over how we shape the culture of our organizations. Done well, this goal promises a tremendous return on investment and begs for thinking outside the box.

Act now!

Folks, it’s time to think outside the box – now is the time to act to best position your organization for what lies ahead with make-or-break employment challenges. If you haven’t done so already, begin taking a very hard look at what your organization offers the employees you want to retain … and the talent you want to attract.

It’s going to be far more difficult than ever before

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