Friday, December 21, 2007

Training for Passion

In my work I have the privilege of talking with senior care providers all over the country. One theme is constant: there are not, today, enough trained and skilled workers to meet the caregiving needs in senior care.

We all know that today is the easy stuff; it’s tomorrow and the coming years when we enter into the nightmare scenario for staffing. As one Administrator commented at a work group the other day, “Today’s newspaper has statistics about how many of us will live to 100 – what are we going to do, people?”

As I’m listening to people talk, one thing I hear that surprises me just a little is how many new hires don’t complete their initial training or drop out of the workforce very soon after beginning.

I think what’s been missing in some of our early approaches to training is instilling a “spark” – a seed of the passion that the very best senior care workers have. They may not have it during the first weeks or months of their work, but they may develop it over time if they give themselves that opportunity by staying in the field, and learning to love the people in their care.

I know I didn’t have that spark of passion when I first entered the field. In fact, as my parents were both in senior care, I’d been exposed to nursing homes and residential care as a child. I was determined to do anything BUT work with seniors.

I graduated with a social work degree and began working in the Community Mental Health Center in my town, enjoying my work with a variety of individuals and age groups. When our center was awarded a grant to develop mental health outreach programs in the local nursing homes, no one else wanted to do it.

I said, “I’m comfortable in nursing homes – I’ll take the job!” And I found myself, at the age of 22, developing an entirely new program with staff, policies and procedures, and organizational needs with a large group of individuals.

It was a blast. I loved not only the work but also the people. I discovered that I truly loved the residents, and found that I could make a difference in their lives, every single day.

When I headed off to graduate school a year later my career path was fixed: I was working with seniors, focusing on developing quality programs and services to meet their unique needs.

And here I am, 20+ years later, struggling with how to instill that passion in a whole new workforce of young – and not so young – individuals.

My own daughter, newly graduated from college with a passion and skill in creative photography and communication, has been helping us add “ahhaa” moments into each of our courses – moments that are filled with music, visual images, and inspirational messages, designed not to educate the brain, but to touch the heart of the learner.

Because if we don’t touch the hearts of our newest, freshest employees and help them get a glimpse of the emotional rewards that come from caring for seniors, we may be missing out on the perfect opportunity to build a passionate, capable workforce to meet the needs of the coming years, not to mention the very real needs we have today.