Senior housing is an especially difficult industry for attracting and retaining committed professionals, especially with the economy approaching full employment.
The same can definitely be said for senior dining services, where hiring managers must compete for an increasingly limited set of potential candidates. Under the circumstances, finding talented chefs, directors of dining services and other senior dining professionals can be a daunting challenge.
“The last time it would have been this bad was in the middle to late ‘90s” said Bob Raymond, vice president of procurement in dining service for Commonwealth Senior Living. “The unemployment rate at that point was just below 4 percent, just like it is now. So it was very, very difficult then. It seems to be even more difficult now.”
Under the circumstances, senior communities must be smart about attracting the best professionals possible and keeping them excited about the work they’re doing. One way to do this is by connecting them with professional organizations.
These organizations fill multiple roles. They offer continuing education that allows professionals to hone their skills. They offer a professional community for people to communicate with their peers. They might even offer inspiration to first-time senior dining employees who didn’t think they were looking for a long-term career.
“If you want to engage your employees, one of the key ways to do so is to make sure you’re encouraging their development,” said Allison Duda, manager at Drive. “That includes providing an opportunity for them to join associations and attend webinars or speaking events.”
Senior dining professionals find their community at the Senior Dining Association. The SDA offers a range of trainings for chefs, dining services directors, sales professionals and others. The association also offers webinars that are free to members, informative articles, a forum for members to share their ideas and concerns, and a jobs site.
When Raymond looked into the SDA, he reached out to his 21 dining service directors and recommend that they join. All have. He hears back from them during their biweekly conference call.
“The individuals that go on these webinars, they’ll come back and say, ‘Hey everyone, you should look at this one and you should take this one. I learned a few things about food cost. I learned a few things about preparation, meals, struggles that other companies just like us are having.’”
Commonwealth provides memberships to its employees. Raymond sees a definite return on investment from the webinars, which are free to members, but he sees other benefits as well—enough that he expects to send a contingent to the association’s first conference and expo next March in Charlotte, N.C.
SDA memberships are also a way for senior communities to recognize the skill and commitment that go preparing menus and meals.
“There’s been a misconception for many years—‘Oh, it’s just nursing home food,’” said Schelley Hollyday, principal at the Hollyday Group. “That is not the case anymore. We have high-level food and beverage professionals. Quite frequently, we are able to get them from country club and hotel food and beverage departments because the level, the expectation of quality and excitement for resident dining, rivals what you get in those environments.”
Duda agrees. “I think there’s a lot of people working in this professional who take great pride in the food that they prepare. I think having the opportunity to have this association provide additional education, it really is a development opportunity.”
In addition, the association’s forum provides an opportunity for chefs and other pros to share advice, opinions and stories with their peers around the country. That engagement helps keep them from feeling isolated in their communities.
“When people are attracting and trying to retain employees, employee engagement is often considered a fluffy topic,” Duda said, “but at the end of the day, engagement really does matter when you’re focusing on the staffing shortage and keeping good people.”
Senior Dining Association
August 22, 2018 Written by: Leo Williams