LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2014 • Volume 04 • Number 02

Attracting and Keeping Young Talent in Aging Services

March 10, 2014 | by Diana Delgado

Providers face growing demand for services, while a generation of seasoned leaders is approaching retirement. How can our field bring new talent into the fold?

One of the biggest challenges aging services providers face is that of attracting talent to their field, as well as retaining the talent they already have.

The 2012 LeadingAge Leadership Academy class began exploring “gaps” in aging services by addressing a study circle question: For whom and what are the gaps in services and programs that we see, and how do we think not-for-profit aging-services organizations should meet these needs?

Editor’s note: For the work of this year’s Academy fellows, see the article, “Closing Gaps in Services: Five Challenges for the Field,” in this issue.

One of the problems identified was the challenge of attracting talent to the field and a limited talent pipeline. Our field is challenged by the growing number of people needing our services, and by the growing number of aging-services executives who are retiring.

At LeadingAge’s PEAK Leadership Summit in March 2013, the 2012 Leadership Academy fellows facilitated a brainstorming session of LeadingAge members to explore the various gaps in service. I had the honor of facilitating a table discussion regarding gap #6: Attracting Talent to the Field/Limited Talent Pipeline. The session resulted in ideas including school system and student engagement, community outreach, and other ideas about how to attract talent within our field and member organizations. In addition to the many ideas cultivated at that session, several Leadership Academy alumni and LeadingAge members have been involved in different ventures to attract and retain talent in the field.

This article explores what various LeadingAge members and academic institutions are doing to attract and retain talent within the field of aging services.

LeadingAge members are working creatively to attract and retain talent within the field. Laura Lamb, a 2010 Leadership Academy fellow and vice president of residential housing and healthcare at Episcopal Retirement Homes (ERH) in Cincinnati, OH, dedicated her Action Learning Project to creating the Council for Life Long Engagement (CLLE), which won the 2013 Hobart Jackson Cultural Diversity Award from LeadingAge.

CLLE’s mission is to eradicate ageism in the United States. It creates positive interactions between students of all ages and elders over a period of time, highlighting the elders’ knowledge and talents in furthering the education of young people. Lamb states, “Think about it: If you don’t value something would you make a career of it? No. There lies the connection between CLLE and the retaining of talent within the field of aging services. If we can change the perception of children growing up concerning elders, more people will consider our field as a great opportunity for fulfilling and worthwhile work.”

ERH is committed to seeing CLLE grow. Now in the program’s fourth year, ERH on its own has achieved more than 2,300 student interactions with 189 volunteers, and has expanded CLLE into eight other aging services organizations. ERH staff has created an easy-to-follow toolkit. Materials are free, and ERH will assign a member of its leadership team to be available to any member organization that wishes to implement CLLE.

CLLE has also been a great retention tool for ERH. “Staff genuinely enjoys spending time with the elders helping them prepare for a classroom session,” says Lamb. “Staff accompanies residents to the classroom, which has resulted in rich, meaningful relationships between staff and residents through their work together.”

Denise Dunlap Ratcliffe, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Christian Health Care Center (CHCC) in Wyckoff, NJ, implemented CHCC’s 6-week Summer Internship program for undergraduates, which launched in 2013. CHCC historically participates in Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, which exposes “tweens” and younger children to the field. In addition to the career days at local high schools to help plant the seeds for careers in health care, CHCC developed the internship program to expand their reach to young people.

Ratcliffe states, “When my own daughter completed an undergraduate internship in Washington, DC, I saw firsthand how an internship can help college students chart their course for studies and career. It allows them to ‘try on’ a career aspiration, learn about a specialized area of study, or it may help them determine that particular focus of study is not for them.”

CHCC’s leaders are very enthusiastic about mentoring and coaching the students, and the residents have become unexpected teachers to the interns by sharing their lifetime of experiences. Exit interviews with the interns show that it is a valuable experience that gave them hands-on, practical experiences that “a book cannot describe,” as well as the opportunity to form relationships with older adults. Ratcliffe says, “The interns brought great energy, inquisitiveness and youthful optimism about the future of health care and aging services. As long as we have helped students to learn, explore, and ignite their passion for service to mission-driven health care organizations, then we can call the program a great success.”

Denise Boudreau-Scott, a 2008 Leadership Academy fellow and now a head of her own consulting and training company in Kinnelon, NJ, is one of the founders of, and current chairperson of the New Jersey Alliance for Culture Change (NJACC). NJACC consists of providers, professionals, organizations and agencies that are committed to serving as a resource and inspiration to those new to the culture change journey. It is embarking on a year-long leadership development program for changing aging services from an institutional model to a person-centered model. In addition to encouraging person-centered practices, the program will give leaders tools they can use to avoid the sense of helplessness that drives good people out of the field, as well as creating a network of leaders that will support each other when those overwhelming days occur.

“Often through the work we do together, leaders and staff find themselves reflecting on the reason why they got into the field of aging services. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day issues, the never-ending list of things to do, and to become overwhelmed by it all,” states Boudreau-Scott. “Twenty years ago, I recall how many people tried to discourage me from going into this field. That experience has stuck with me and made me passionate about helping those who are interested in entering or furthering their career in aging services.”

“NAB (the National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards) began raising concerns about recruitment and retention eight years ago in response to a 40% decline in the number of licensure examination candidates. Isn’t that figure sad and alarming?” asks Boudreau-Scott. NAB hosted several summits to explore ways to reach out to young people and made recommendations to the Long Term Care Quality Commission in 2008. Unfortunately, those recommendations were not adopted by the commission. However, NAB committed to taking a leadership role by establishing the National Emerging Leadership Summit (NELS), which brings 25-40 long-term care administrators in the first five years of their careers together to inspire leadership at a national level and to stimulate their interest in shaping national policy that affects the profession.

The George Washington University in Washington, DC, sponsors the annual NELS conference. Christy Kramer, director of residency services at the university’s Department of Health Services Management and Leadership, and a 2008 LeadingAge Leadership Academy fellow, says, “NELS is raising the issues that the generation of X and Y emerging leaders identify and bring to the forefront. We are careful to arrange these summits so that their ‘voice’ is heard.”

In 2011, NELS’ focus was on addressing barriers of entry to the profession and the need to standardize state licensing, along with a secondary agenda of pursuing mentoring opportunities for the profession. In 2014, NELS will celebrate its fifth conference. Over the years, participants have reported higher levels of engagement with health care and aging-services associations and local communities.

Universities have to be creative on the front end to attract candidates for gerontology programs. Susan Collins, Ph.D., assistant professor of gerontology and gerontology program coordinator at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley, says, “UNC’s gerontology programs recruit students through career fairs, aging networking events and through the research and professional activities of our faculty members. Our faculty members also personally meet and communicate with individuals who are considering studying gerontology.”

K. Whisnant Turner, Ph.D., director of applied gerontology master’s degree and certificate programs at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, states, “UNT recruits candidates through outreach events, such as college fairs, with all feeder high schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and all colleges in the 16-state intercollegiate consortium. The UNT website also is instrumental in producing inquiries about our undergraduate and graduate certificates and degree programs.”

Providing practical experience for gerontology students is instrumental in preparing talent for the field of aging services. University of Northern Colorado students who have pursued an internship or practicum experience have reported on alumni surveys that those activities were among the most important and useful of their time in the program. Collins states, “Students were able to utilize what they had learned in courses and apply this knowledge in the field. Some students also became employed through their internship or practicum, if not always at that site, then through the networking that these experiential activities allow.” UNC students have gone on to leadership positions with area agencies on aging, offices on aging, assisted living centers and as independent care managers.

University of North Texas provides opportunities that include 1,000 clock hours of intensive field training and service provision with licensed nursing facilities and settings. “Students usually get hired by the agencies where they do their field placements, obviously because the agencies see the value of hiring someone they trained for that many hours,” states Turner. “Students are happy; there is nothing that beats having a job you want when you graduate. Follow-up surveys indicate the vast majority of students are satisfied with their achievements after they graduate.”

The University of Northern Colorado works with other organizations and agencies to advance leadership in aging services. The UNC Gerontology program is a member of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE), which is focused on the teaching and learning of future gerontologists who may enter academia or pursue professional careers. Dr. Collins states, “UNC participates in the AGHE Careers in Aging Week, which brings together faculty, students, professionals and community members to inspire students to pursue careers in aging by illustrating research and direct service trends.” UNC faculty is also involved in local aging network organizations and hold positions on area advisory boards. Collins says, “Building teams of knowledgeable providers is crucial to recruiting and retaining talented aging services professionals because it creates a work setting that inspires the best environment for older adults. Aging services providers should financially support further education for those who work for them in order to develop that talent.”

The University of North Texas advances leadership in aging services through the Coalition for Leadership in Aging Services (CLAS). The CLAS mission is to create, certify and connect innovative leaders in aging services and offer a range of opportunities for aging services professionals to “tap into the power” of the CLAS Circle by engaging, receiving, growing and serving throughout their career. The foundation of the CLAS educational programs is the Certified Aging Services Professional (CASP) certification. The program began in 1986 as the Retirement Housing Professional (RHP) certification and UNT took over administration of the program in 2000. There are now 2,249 CASP graduates. Kim Mathis, director of CLAS, states, “In alignment with UNT’s Bold Goal #4, CLAS and the gerontology program strive to keep UNT nationally recognized and engaged in the rapidly growing field of aging services because aging touches every life and every profession. It is an exciting time of innovation and cultural transformation filled with challenging opportunities to grow, reinvent, and transform the way we age in society.”

Whether through school system and student engagement, community outreach, partnerships, or career pathways for talent within our own organizations, we need to be creative in ways to develop future leaders. What is your organization doing to close the gap? I challenge you to explore ways in which your organization can make an impact to attract and retain talent within the field of aging services.