This theme calls on us to think about what it means to grow old in America today. I believe it also calls on us – as providers, consumers, employers, and advocates – to consider our role in ensuring a meaningful life for those in their later years.

One of the biggest challenges we face in achieving the objective of a meaningful life is an acute shortage of workers – at all levels – to provide services and supports to people as they age. While workforce challenges often come in cycles, our current challenges are here to stay for a while.

It’s a numbers issue.

In a recently released LeadingAge survey on workforce issues, 83.5% of LeadingAge members reported that an insufficient number of qualified applicants for vacancies is the number 1 of top 3 challenges facing providers. Well behind that number, at 65% and 63% respectively, are competitive wages and staff turnover. LeadingAge members also reported that the most difficult staff to recruit were registered nurses.

This should come as no surprise when we look closely at the numbers, as LeadingAge members are not immune from national – even international – trends.

In 2010, the ratio of caregivers to people needing care was 7:1; in 2030, it will be 4:1. While the population age 80 and older will increase by 44% between 2030 and 2040, the number of caregivers will only increase by 10%. The gap grows wider.

For the next 25 years, we will need to be intentional about attracting younger people to our field, redesigning jobs to accommodate phased retirement for older workers, and entering the immigration debate to ensure a steady supply of qualified workers. It is first and foremost about numbers and then about training and retraining, excellence in workplace cultures, and creating career ladders and lattices. Once recruited, retention is key.  

We know that the time and attention required to cobble together creative solutions to these workforce challenges draws precious resources away from other priorities. While many of the barriers are specific to the characteristics of local markets, we believe that there is a critical role for LeadingAge to play in sharing what works: tools, strategies, partnerships, and promising ideas.

The LeadingAge Center for Workforce Solutions, launching in June, will be our platform for learning and exchange. It is my expectation that it will grow exponentially over the coming months as we hear from you and identify new resources. We are focusing heavily on recruitment and retention strategies.

To “Age Out Loud” we need the services, supports, and infrastructure to ensure all can age with choice and dignity. To that end, a quality workforce that is compassionate and caring is essential.

Join LeadingAge in promoting Older Americans Month. And let me know, how do you plan to Age Out Loud?