Guest commentary: Will millennials be motivated to fill the healthcare staffing void?
As expected, baby boomers in all industries are packing up their cubicles and offices and making way for a new generation of employees. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of individuals working in nursing and residential-care facilities—a subsector of the healthcare and social assistance sector—has been increasing yearly since 1990. And a 2017 report from Deloitte shows that in all areas of healthcare, the number of jobs in home health services and outpatient-care centers have increased at a faster rate proportionally than any other category.
That being said, there's still strong concern among healthcare providers that dwindling numbers of teachers at medical schools, nursing programs and other training sites means there won't be enough people trained to meet the demand for new caregivers, and that millennials lack the interest to pursue roles as nurses, home healthcare aides and even doctors. The biggest fear for employers is that rather than having new staff quickly fill the new openings, they'll end up having too many vacancies in the hospitals and caregiver shortages in nursing homes, threatening the quality of care and access to services.
Already, millennials are acting as unpaid caregivers. According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, almost a quarter of people ages 18-34 are taking on additional responsibilities for their loved ones. So how do professional elder-care providers encourage millennials to pursue this career path?
When trying to appeal to millennials, it's important to look at what they want out of their jobs and career paths. Regardless of what industry they choose, their general needs and priorities remain consistent. According to a Gallup survey, more than any other generation, millennials search for jobs that provide opportunities for them to learn and grow—they want mentors as well as strong potential for advancement. While serving patients and their families is always a healthcare organization's first priority, management must take into account their employees' desire to feel fully involved within their workplace, to receive feedback about their performance that will lead to improvement, and to be respected.
Additionally, given the number of millennials leaving college with student debt, especially ones who've gone on to pursue graduate degrees, they also want a salary that alleviates previous financial burdens and satisfies their current needs. Although the majority of healthcare positions fill these criteria, there are still a few—most notably psychiatric technicians and aides, nursing assistants and orderlies, and home health aides—who typically earn less than $30,000 a year. Depending on where they live as well as their lifestyle, millennials may not be willing to settle for this, even if pursuing elder-care is their chosen career path.
Millennials in all fields also crave flexibility in their work schedules. While that's harder to accommodate in the elder-care sector, since consistency of caregivers is an important part of providing personalized services, ensuring that employees have a healthy work-life balance isn't impossible.
We also can't forget the appeal of state-of-the-art technology. The millennial generation expects medical facilities to have user-friendly systems, whether it's for note-taking, patient data entry, research, or internal and external communication. They also don't want to use outdated technology when updated models provide better features and increased accuracy.
Being a professional within the elder-care community is a rewarding and extremely gratifying experience. Ultimately, to ensure that elder-care job openings will be filled quickly, we need to demonstrate our commitment to incorporating new technology and providing the necessary opportunities for our younger hires to design and implement strategies for serving and treating patients, communicating with their families, and connecting with and learning from the other members of the staff. We also need to reward excellence through fair pay grades and appropriate benefits and transform whatever situations we can into teaching opportunities that'll keep our care providers at the top of their game throughout their careers.
Not everyone is going to come to elder-care with a pre-existing passion, but if we do our part to appeal to the next generation of caregivers, it's possible to ignite a spark that may not have been there before.
Melissa Powell is chief operating officer of the Allure Group, a chain of elder-care facilities serving New York City and New Jersey.
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