Today, the senior living industry is not on most young people's radar as a potential career track or even as a starter or part-time job--but it should be. Senior housing is a $40 billion industry that is growing rapidly in need, scale, and employment opportunities, and it will continue to do so over the next several decades as the U.S. population ages.
These are not the stereotypical "old folks' homes" of yesteryear. Skilled nursing facilities still abound, of course, but the greatest growth--and the most dynamic revolution--is taking place in retirement and assisted living communities. These are thriving, active, lively places of business that are also fun, rewarding places to work. To be successful, these communities require a broad range of skills in full- and part-time positions, and not just nursing and care coordinators.
Here are three entry-level opportunities to consider:
1. Work in the kitchen with meal prep or on-site dining rooms and café in a wait staff position for the three meals and additional snacks made available to residents each day. What a great way to get your foot in the door for the teen who might be interested in a culinary career!
2. Help with senior activities. If a young person has high energy and some experience in crafts or the performing arts, what could be more satisfying than helping seniors have some fun and tap into their artistic side? Senior living communities have a daily, weekly and monthly activities calendar. The program includes various types of activities that volunteers or staff may assist with such as: painting, exercise, games, singing, dancing, trivia, and outings to museums, parks, galleries and the Arts.
3. Work as a night-time concierge who answers phones and resident inquiries. While a night-time position requires less experience than its day-time counterpart, it still provides an opportunity to visit with residents, greet guests, and get involved with customer service. It might lack glamour, but this is a responsible position and can provide solid work experience for a young person's resume.
Alternatively, a high school or college student can intern in specific departments, including accounting, marketing, and human resources. For the right person, the industry offers strong wages, top-notch benefits, a warm, supportive working atmosphere, and consistently high levels of job satisfaction. Young people bring their own unique brand of good medicine to seniors. Residents feed off of youthful enthusiasm and energy and enjoy hearing modern-day, coming-of-age stories just as they enjoy relating their own remembrances and dispensing nuggets of advice to a young person facing a challenge in their personal or professional life.
Senior living administrators truly want--and need--to hire teens and new college graduates. Not everyone needs to be on a career track to work at an assisted living or retirement community. These can also be wonderful, safe, nurturing places for that first-ever job. Along the way, young people gain experience in working with the older generation and pick up the kind of hard and soft skills that are in demand and can be illustrated on resumes and college applications.
So to teenagers who may be interested: Go visit your grandmother's assisted living community or an older family friend who has taken up residence there. Look around. Talk to employees. And if you can see yourself working with interesting people who appreciate your youthful enthusiasm and energy (and who are chock full of fascinating stories and wise counsel) and if you want to learn new skills in a positive, supportive environment, then by all means, go fill out a job application. Your decision could have a tremendous impact on someone's life--and not just your own.
Dwayne J. Clark is the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, currently with 28 senior living communities in Washington, California, and Nevada, and the author of "My Mother, My Son: A true story of love, determination, and memories...lost" (2012, www.mymothermyson.com).