​Expanding hiring pools has proven to be a sure way for seniors housing communities to solve their hiring challenges. Many are achieving this by creating professional career tracks for new employees, while welcoming and giving purpose to older workers, and including those with mixed backgrounds.

These efforts extend beyond customary diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals, which have gained momentum in recent years in many industries.

Seniors housing operators such as Juniper have made employing a diverse workforce one of its mainstays in management. 

“We’ve always prided ourselves as a company with a diverse workforce,” Lynne Katzmann, president, Juniper Communities, said. “For starters, we’re a woman-owned business. We’ve had a gender-balanced board and have since day 1. Equity has been embedded in our culture for a long time. When we began, for example, it was not uncommon for our leadership team to meet with others, and questions were always directed first to the men in the room, although I’m the owner.”

To remedy that, Katzmann removed job titles.

“We’re all part of a team,” she said. “There’s a resident team, an environmental services team, and a leadership team. This levels the playing field. And provides an opportunity for us all to lead when we are called on.”

Katzmann said its communities are culturally diverse. 

“Oftentimes, our staff comprises many with the same nationality, such as being rich with individuals from the Philippines, Haiti, or Ethiopia,” she said.

Juniper’s head of recruiting is an African American woman. Katzmann said this helps to provide a different perspective and approach to hiring. To find other like-minded associates, for example, Juniper recruits from local churches, clubs and organizations, and refugee centers. 

“When it comes to DEI hiring and the seniors housing industry,” Katzmann said, “there’s room for improvement. The age and acuity levels have risen for our residents, and we’ve needed to change along with it. Our industry was really stretched during the pandemic. There’s a lot of day-to-day work to do—and we do it—but our industry needs to think more about its future needs than just the present day. We need to close that gap.”

Gina Gilmore, chief of people and culture, Transitions Care, said her company employs individuals across all areas (excluding those recently incarcerated as they do not meet the background checks needed for healthcare workers). 

“We have a broad array of religious communities and veterans/reservists in multiple states to recruit,” she said. Transitions Care is establishing a program with the City College of Chicago to recruit students who are near us. And those who, perhaps, might need opportunities presented to them, Gilmore said.

“We present it as more than a job, but how these opportunities are designed as part of a career track with our company,” she said.

A ‘Huge’ Advantage in Recruiting

Likewise, Scott Laakso, chief people officer for SALMON Health and Retirement, said his company has always tapped into many different cultures and pools of applicants that might not have always been widely considered in the industry.

“This has given us a huge advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining a diverse staff,” he said.

SALMON Health and Retirement has “great relationships” with its local high schools and senior centers to recruit staff at both ends of the age spectrum, according to Laakso.

“One of our owners, Andrew Salmon, has done a lot of work within the African community in our area over the years to connect SALMON Health and Retirement with that group. We have also worked with substance and addiction treatment centers to help their clients get back into the workforce. We welcome and celebrate the various cultures we have working at SALMON Health and Retirement, which is one of the reasons SALMON stands apart as a great organization to work for.”

These various employees primarily have filled certified nurse aide (CNA) and entry-level dining positions.

“We recently partnered with Bellingham High School on a personal care assistant (PCA) training program with five female students from the school. Once completed, they obtained their first true full-time job working at our Medway community as PCAs. They plan to move on to medical/nursing programs this fall and continue to work part-time with us.”

Katzmann said Juniper has had great success with hiring younger people from high schools—those who “maybe don’t yet know what career path they’d like to take,” she said. “At first, the students wanted a job for after school or the summer but have come to realize that they really enjoy working with older adults,” Katzmann said. Juniper also has set up internships in several departments at Penn State to bring in part-time workers.

Older Workers Also Ideal Mentors

Juniper has had success when it comes to recruiting older workers—both as new employees and mentors.

“We are attracting pre-tirees—persons who want to work later in life, but only with a flexible, part-time arrangement,” Katzmann said. Its oldest worker is 91, an administrative and event associate who has been with the company for 35 years.

“We believe that our recruitment and retention both stems at least in part from our culture, which is deeply embedded in the people who work at Juniper,” Katzmann said. “Many have worked together for over two decades—rare in our industry!”

A year ago, the company created its Juniper Sages program, which includes previous Juniper employees who retired. They are paid a monthly stipend to serve as consultants about issues such as budgeting or policies and procedures. It has two in the program, two about to join, and one other who will come on in about a year.

“The Sages program gives these people purpose,” Katzmann said. “We didn’t want to lose their valuable institutional knowledge.”

Creating a ‘Better Workplace’

Persons of LGBTQ also play a key role at Juniper. The entire staff has received SAGECare training, which is dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older people by focusing on aging cultural competency.

Juniper also has been involved for more than a decade with the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group (KJCG) in creating an inclusive work environment and company culture.

KJCG works with individuals and companies to create the foundation for greater trust, inclusion, and collaboration in the workplace to enhance and assist the success of agile organizations.

Organizations must be agile to survive the increasingly fast-paced and competitive market and they need to have a culture of trust and inclusion established so that people can share their “not-yet-formed/half-baked” thoughts, KJCG said.

“Having these understandings has made us a better workplace,” Katzmann said.

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, VA.