Workforce Development Month: Let’s Get Creative about Career Mobility * by Robyn Stone

Workforce Development Month: Let’s Get Creative about Career Mobility * by Robyn Stone

Robyn Stone thinks providers of aging services should celebrate Workforce Development Month by offering direct care professionals good-quality jobs and the option for career mobility if they desire it.

The national unemployment rate fell to 3.5% in July 2022, the lowest it has been since the Coronavirus Pandemic sent rates climbing dangerously close to 15% more than two years ago. This small sign of economic recovery should prompt all Americans to breathe a sigh of relief. But there’s a caveat for the field of aging services: the promising economic news may not be as promising as we think.

Here’s the hard truth: as employers across the job market begin hiring again, and competition for workers heats up even more, the task of attracting Americans to work as direct care professionals in nursing homes, assisted living communities, and home care agencies could become even more challenging than it is right now.

Clearly, it’s time to get creative about how we attract more people to our field and give them every reason to stay on the job. That’s why, during September’s National Workforce Development Month, I’ll be focusing my attention on two strategies I believe could convince more people to consider becoming direct care professionals.

First, we must honor the direct care professionals who are already committed to our organizations and to our field.

These are the aides who have been with us for a while, and who show up each day, even during a health emergency, to do their jobs the best way they know how. They love their work and the people they serve. They are the backbone of our organizations and our field. We can honor them by making it easier for them to stay in the jobs they love—by providing them with robust training, ongoing support, and, most important, a living wage.

Second, we must recognize that direct care positions are a valuable entry point into our sector for people with a wide variety of skills.

People who come to our organizations as direct care professionals need to know about the myriad opportunities available to them if they decide they want to pursue other career options within our field. That includes career ladders to positions like certified nursing assistant, nurse, or manager; and career lattices that allow employees to keep working as direct care professionals while also becoming specialists in emerging areas of practice like medication administration, dementia care, or oral care.

I’ve long been fascinated by the power of career lattices to promote workforce development in our sector. That fascination has grown in recent months, as LTSS Center researchers reached out to providers, direct care professionals, and academic partners to gauge their interest in creating a career pathway that offers direct care professionals the opportunity to pursue training in social work.

I suspect that, if such a pathway were available, a few direct care professionals might be interested in traveling the long road to a master’s in social work degree. But, at least initially, I believe a greater number of aides might feel called to pursue social work-related training that would allow them to become care managers or service coordinators.

We’re hoping to convene a group of stakeholders who can think more deeply about the challenges and opportunities associated with this social work pathway. We have a lot of important questions to answer: What kind of training would we offer and how? How would we work with providers to create jobs along the pathway? How would we find the funds to compensate employees for their newly earned qualifications? How would we address the fear that aides with advanced credentials would leave the organizations that encouraged their growth?

To be honest, I’m not sure where these discussions will lead. But that’s not really the point. Right now, I’m glad our partners are willing to get creative in exploring strategies that could attract more direct care professionals to our field and convince them to stay.

During National Workforce Development Month, I hope you’ll get creative too. Start thinking about new approaches that would help you improve the quality of direct care jobs in your organization. Explore new ways to give current and prospective employees access to a diversity of options that can help them grow, as people and as professionals, within your organization and within the field of aging services.

We desperately need this kind of creative thinking if we’re going to strengthen our sector and ensure its future.

Keep us posted on your thinking … and we’ll keep you posted on ours. 

During National Workforce Development Month, LeadingAge is proud to celebrate and support the aging services workforce. Learn more about LeadingAge’s National Workforce Development Month campaign, access turnkey resources, and submit your own story on workforce to the Story Collector.

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August 30, 2022