LeadingAge Magazine · November-December 2018 • Volume 08 • Number 06

An Employee Pipeline That Starts With Schooling

November 18, 2018 | by Gene Mitchell

This provider has created a program that not only recruits young people as employees, but actively partners with schools to educate and train them for the purpose.

Among long-term services and supports organizations that face daunting challenges in recruiting staff (that is to say, all of them), one oft-stated wish is that young people should be given more accurate, positive information about potential careers in our field.

Presbyterian SeniorCare Network, a full-continuum provider serving 10 counties in western Pennsylvania, has accepted that challenge by creating a program that not only recruits young people as employees, but actively partners with schools to educate and train them for the purpose.

Thanks to a $725,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Presbyterian SeniorCare Network began 2018 by creating a multifaceted program:

  • The Youth Engagement Pathways (YEP!) program creates volunteer opportunities for middle school students in Presbyterian SeniorCare Network communities.
  • The High School Career Pathways program is designed to actively promote health careers in schools—actually bringing a custom-designed curriculum to students.
  • A career coaching program, created in partnership with schools and other entities, works with students and employees individually and in groups to examine career opportunities.
  • A paid work experience component, funded by the grant, pays some students to work part-time in Presbyterian SeniorCare Network communities.
  • A career path is offered, post-graduation, to some participants in the High School Career Pathways program. For example, they could start as a Personal Care Assistant (PCA), receive CNA training through a Presbyterian SeniorCare Network class and get help to find funding for further post-secondary nursing education.

“The shortages we have now and see for the future need to be solved,” says Tanya Ulrich, vice president of human resources at Presbyterian SeniorCare Network. “I believe we need to engage people young, while they are trying to decide on careers.”

The organization believes entry-level opportunities in health care can be a good springboard for professional careers, Ulrich adds. She mentions her own family’s experience: Two of her children, who volunteered at local hospitals as teenagers, have gone on to careers in health care.

“There’s an opportunity to guide people who might have an idea about working in health care in general, and with older adults specifically,” Ulrich says. “Our own employees will say they didn’t know a lot about long-term care before coming here, unless they had personal experience.”

Presbyterian SeniorCare photo
Student participants in the Youth Engagement Pathways (YEP!) program, which is designed to connect them to volunteer opportunities and expose them to potential career options in aging services.


Partnerships to Pathways

The High School Career Pathways program created a custom curriculum to be used in participating schools.

Presbyterian SeniorCare Network hired 2 high school partnership coordinators, who manage the program by working with high schools and vocational schools near the organization’s communities. In Washington County, PA, 1 coordinator works with Trinity High School and the Western Area Career and Technology Center, a vocational institution that draws from 9 area high schools. The other coordinator is based at the Oakmont campus, working with Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School, Pittsburgh Perry Traditional Academy and Pittsburgh Carrick High School.

A curriculum on long-term care was developed in partnership with Jessica Kamerer, Ed.D., assistant professor of nursing at Robert Morris University. It meets Pennsylvania standards for career and technical education, and is presented in 2 hours of class time per month in the participating high schools. Students learn about long-term care and types of occupations in the field, go on field trips, experience job shadowing and more.

“There is some theory, but it’s also interactive and gives students a lot of opportunities to talk about long-term care,” says Ulrich.

The classes are embedded in the curriculum at all but 1 of the participating high schools (and that school grants time for students to participate). About 150 students are taking part.

Students going through the school-based curriculum will make a field trip to 2 campuses in December. A resident mentor program is planned for next year.

Students can put the educational component into action by working at Presbyterian SeniorCare Network communities. The grant funds wages for up to 100 hours per week at each campus for students who take jobs.

“We’ve developed several job descriptions,” says Ulrich. “Some [students] may want to work in a particular area. We have one job description that actually allows them to rotate through several entry-level roles, such as nursing, environmental or dining.”

So far, 10 students have taken advantage of the work experience component; they average about 12 hours per week per student.

Coaching Offers Personal Attention

The Career Coaching element of the grant offers 1-on-1 attention to students interested in career paths. Ulrich notes that, apart from the Pathways students, Presbyterian SeniorCare Network already employs a lot of high school students, mostly in dining services. The organization will offer the coaching option to them as well, beginning in January 2019.

The 1-on-1 coaching is done by Goodwill, Southwest Training Services, Inc. and the high school partnership coordinators. Presbyterian SeniorCare Network is also offering coaching services in groups, in what it calls HIP (“High Impact Program”) Skills.

“On an every-other-week basis, as part of their paid work, they will be in development sessions to work on communication, team building and problem solving skills,” says Ulrich, “things that will help them in the workplace.”

For Younger Students, Volunteerism

The Youth Engagement Pathway program, aimed primarily at middle school students, was actually the first component of the initiative to get off the ground.

“We wanted to engage the younger students,” says Ulrich. “A number are partnered with our activities/lifestyle engagement staff. Some work in dining, some in administrative capacities.”

She tells the story of an independent living resident at the Longwood at Oakmont life plan community, who wanted some muscular help with the gardens he oversees. The organization found a school that needed a service project for the football team, and several players answered the call.

“The shortages we have now and see for the future need to be solved. I believe we need to engage people young, while they are trying to decide on careers.”

Worth the Effort

Ulrich says the creation and implementation of the program, while time-consuming, has been worth the effort.

“Writing the grant was the easy part,” she says, “20 pages plus a budget. But operationalizing the details, developing the relationships, finding the curriculum writer, reach out to partners, and navigating the educational processes at the schools has meant a fair investment of time.”

The organization created a workforce project advisory committee, a subset of the SeniorCare Network board, to provide feedback and oversight of the grant. The committee is led by 2 board members and includes representatives from community and academic partners.

As part of the grant, Presbyterian SeniorCare Network also built in substantial in-kind contributions.

The funder is owed a report at the end of the mid-year to review progress. Ultimately it wants to see that at least 20 students participated in the job-shadowing program, and at least 10 participants must be offered full-time positions upon graduation.

What Constitutes Success?

Success, says Ulrich, means “being able to offer a number of high school seniors a career path upon graduation, whatever that path would look like. Success would be a sustainable program that could go beyond the grant funding. We are working to stretch the funding by identifying other sources of funds and continuing the outreach.”

She also notes that collaboration with other aging services providers would make sustainability easier and offer a useful model for helping identify talent for our field.

Gene Mitchell is editor of LeadingAge magazine.