By Scott L. Eckstein

I often tell the story of when I was teaching senior living management to undergraduate students, and when I asked why they were taking the class, they told me it was because they needed three credits. We would then discuss the basics of the senior living industry, the history, the ins and outs of care services, life enrichment, and customer experience. I would then take them on a field trip to see modern, state-of-the-art senior living communities.

After that field trip, students would start coming to me asking about careers in the industry, since before that field trip, they couldn’t envision themselves working in senior living (think skilled nursing, “convalescent homes,” etc.) After those community visits, a light bulb went on. And they could see themselves working in the business, impacting residents, and having a fulfilling career working with seniors and their families.

But … they could not see taking (and did not want to take) a job when they graduated being a caregiver or concierge, or even an activities assistant — especially when their friends in the hospitality school were vying for, and getting, great career opportunities to enter management training programs with companies like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Four Seasons, and the like.

My Soapbox Effort

So began my soapbox effort to get senior living companies to do the same management training, and not just a targeted executive director in training (EDIT) program, because not everyone wants to be an executive director. The program needed to be broader, because while EDIT programs are great and definitely an excellent starting place for a broader management training program, graduating students are looking for diversity, flexibility, and a career path.

I was able to get and see many students enter some great companies’ management training programs. Wonderful. The industry is set with a cadre of new leaders on the way! But hold the phone because, Houston, we have a problem. … Turns out that the community leadership in some cases was not prepared to, not interested in, or just didn’t know or understand how to train, foster, and mentor this talent, so we lost a great amount of talent by our own hands.

What we also really need is for the leadership that we are asking to train the next generation of leaders and managers to be real mentors to this upcoming talent. Otherwise, all the efforts to build the next generation of industry leaders and managers will be for naught.

Providing Mentorship

The team members we are asking to train these driven, though impressionable but talented men and women, need to provide mentorship. These young adults crave it! They are not “plugs” for poor management or for communities with staffing issues — they are future managers. Of course, they would and should step in when needed, just like any good manager would and should do, but they are not the “I can’t staff my building properly” bench.

If we are going to put the time, money, and effort into building better and growing the next generation of management talent, we need to make sure we keep them, nurture them, and truly mentor them. The secret sauce is in how we choose, train, and monitor our leaders that will mentor the next generation of leaders and managers.

Job Nurturing

At Boston University, and at the graduate level, I am working with Dr. Taylor Peyton, an expert in leadership, industrial/organizational psychology, and entrepreneurship who is now working within a hospitality paradigm on leadership and mentorship in senior living.

She says:

Without fail, every highly successful young professional I have met always has strong mentorship backing them. These professionals mentor and serve as advocates for their professional advancement, open doors for them regularly, and impart precious wisdom into their hearts and minds. The young professionals go on to do great things because they got an early start and stood on the shoulders of giants. Any industry that wants to invest in its future must invest in its young leaders. When this happens, the world is better off for it.

I fully concur and strongly feel if we really want to grow the next generation of senior living leaders, we need to do a much better job nurturing — and yes, mentoring — this talent pool we are working so hard to draw into the industry.