Podcast: Education Pathways for Caregivers—An Untapped Opportunity for Employers

Notes
Transcript
Host

In this episode, we welcome Jessica Jones, Care Experience Outcomes Manager at CareAcademy. Jessica led our recent caregiver research report, “Education Pathways for Caregivers: An Untapped Opportunity for Employers.”

After conducting a survey of 1,500 direct care workers, we found that ongoing educational opportunities are a critical factor for caregiver recruitment and retention.

Listen in and read the full survey results to find out what this means for your agency.

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Aaron Dun:  

You are now listening to HomeCare On-Air, brought to you by CareAcademy. Strap in as we dive headfirst into the future of home care and the issues, challenges and opportunities facing homecare operators in a post pandemic world. Welcome my name is Aaron Dun, SVP of marketing for CareAcademy, the industry’s leading provider of care enablement solutions designed to manage your agency’s training and compliance requirements. In today’s episode, we’re talking with CareAcademy’s care experience outcomes manager, Jessica Jones. Jessica recently led a groundbreaking research study examining caregivers’ educational and career aspirations, barriers caregivers face to furthering their education, and the opportunity for agency employers in providing these opportunities. We are very excited to be joined by Jessica today to talk through what the survey means, as well as the implications for the industry as a whole. Jessica, welcome to the podcast.

Jessica Jones:  

Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Aaron Dun:  

Yeah, it’s gonna be great. I’m looking forward to this conversation. I know we’ve been talking about the survey for a few weeks now as we got the data and started really looking at the signals, the really clear signals from the data that we’re going to share today. And I’m excited to dig into that. But before we do, tell us a little bit about yourself. Jessica, how long have you been here? What do you do? What do you do for fun? Where are you based?

Jessica Jones:  

So, I am the care experience outcomes manager. I joined CareAcademy in August of 2020, at the height of the pandemic. I learned about CareAcademy through Helen, our CEO, I met her in Boston. She turned around and we talked about she’s like, “Oh, what do you do?” And I said, “I do long term care research.” She says, “We need to talk.” So I was excited about meeting her. I thought she was awesome. She’s like, “Do you want to be a part of CareAcademy?” And I said, “Yes.” So that was kind of my journey to CareAcademy. I’m based in Durham, North Carolina. I focus on building our research infrastructure here at CareAcademy: How do we measure outcomes for caregivers, but also their clients? So how do we make inroads in that? And what do I do for fun? I’m really big into dance and dance class, fitness.

Aaron Dun:  

Well, I might need a few pointers at some point. But your experience with Helen sounds like my experience with Helen, I call that “You got Helened,” in a really good way. She’s really dynamic, and we’re really lucky to have her leading us. I am curious, I always like to ask people a little bit of an offbeat icebreaker question just to get the conversation flowing. So I’m going to ask you: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your days, what would that meal be?

Jessica Jones:  

Sushi is my number one. I can eat it every day. I don’t know how healthy that is, but I could eat sushi every day for the rest of my life.

Aaron Dun:  

Well, that wouldn’t be on my list. But good for you. Healthy wise, I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter, if you’re eating one food for the rest of your life it probably is irrelevant. Well, let’s dive in. Jessica, I’m really excited to get into the research here. Let’s put this research in a little bit of context for our listeners you know, what were the goals of this study? Why did we set out to do it? And what was our hypothesis? What did we hope to learn?

Jessica Jones:  

We really wanted to learn about caregivers’ motivations, aspirations, and to uncover how best to support existing caregivers and deliver high-quality care in the home. As one of my team members likes to say, we want to know, what do caregivers really want when it comes to their education? So one, keep it broad. I think there’s not enough research out there for understanding the caregivers and what they want.

Aaron Dun:  

I very much agree. So tell us, who was in the sample? What were the demographics in the survey? How many respondents were there? Where did they come from, what did we learn from that?

Jessica Jones:  

We had 1,500 caregivers across the US, I think we had at least one response from every state, maybe two states that are missing in that. Ninety-one percent female, so if you didn’t know anything about the home care population, this is an overwhelmingly female-driven population, a woman-driven population. They had a variety of educational backgrounds, so more than half had either a high school diploma or some college but not a college degree. Most of them are working more than 30 hours a week. So they’re doing this full time, for one employer or multiple, and then 64% reported a household income of $50,000 or less. So again, if you know anything about this home care population, this is a kind of low-income, middle-income population, and as expected, this is actually an older leaning population. So more than 60% of the respondents were over 45. So a majority of them are in the 45-to-64 age range.

Aaron Dun:  

I think it’s interesting that the population skews older. Some of the other metrics, I think, if you’ve just thought about the industry generally wouldn’t necessarily surprise you. But what do you think the implications of an older caregiver population have, if any? Did that surprise you when you saw that data? Or what are the implications of that, do you think?

Jessica Jones:  

I wasn’t surprised, because, this is an aging population or workforce population. But I think it speaks to our need to recruit more caregivers into this population. And that’s something that we’re constantly thinking about, of how do we recruit a million more caregivers and makes me think, like, we need to do better, especially for home care workers. And the thing is that people in this profession are really committed to this profession, this is something that they do for a long time, they want to make a difference. They believe in caring for older adults. And sometimes people are attracted to this population because they cared for a loved one. So they gain some expertise in that area to caring for a family member, and they see “Oh, I can easily transition those skills into an actual profession.”

Aaron Dun:  

Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, we’ve talked to some of our agency owners who actually had that same experience, who are like, “Well, I got some experience with the industry as a family caregiver,” and thought, “This is something I can be part of and do something good.” And that’s sort of interesting to see that journey both to, you know, owning/operating an agency, but also becoming a professional caregiver. I know that the data here presents a strong signal for the number of caregivers who said they’re interested in further education, I think the number was around 70%, which is, you know, a strong signal as any that this is an important topic. What kind of education, though, are caregivers most interested in? And what do they hope to do with that education?

Jessica Jones:  

Yeah, so ongoing education takes on many forms, but universally, they’re interested in healthcare-related fields. So the most common upskilling pathways were to become a nurse, achieve a CNA, so a certified nursing assistant, or move into healthcare administration. We also offered an option where they could select “Other,” but they were more interested in staying in a healthcare setting. So other healthcare-related. So there are a lot of roles in healthcare. And it seems like the homecare workers know that, so they see that they can advance their skills in a variety of ways in that field. What was also really hopeful about this survey was, you know, we asked them why they want to advance their skills, overwhelmingly, people said that they just want to make a positive impact on their community. So like I was saying, earlier, you know, this is a workforce that doesn’t get their due, but they’re very committed to their work, they want to make a difference. So I thought that was really encouraging about the population. And then also, you know, other motivating factors for wanting to pursue education include improving job opportunities, expanding their educational horizons, and you know, of course, money, the factor, they want to improve the livelihood of their families, so they would like to make more money.

Aaron Dun:  

But that was like, fifth, right? On the list.

Jessica Jones:  

Right. I was surprised.

Aaron Dun:  

I mean, I suppose that’s indicative of, as you said, you know, the first item on the list, which was having a broader impact, people don’t get into this industry, because they’re trying to get rich, they do it because they feel a higher calling. And that mission orientation is really important. And in education, I think, oftentimes when people hear “continuing education,” they think higher ed, go back and get a college degree. And you know, that was on the list, correct? But more often than not, it was more about additional training, certifications, etc, within their field. Is that fair?

Jessica Jones:  

Yes, that is fair. And I think also, you know, we talked about the demographics. So this is a field that, you know, runs the gamut from 18 to over 65. And education looks different depending on where you are in your professional career. And I think the great thing about CareAcademy is that we’re considering the whole spectrum of what education looks like for a variety of learners. So yeah, we don’t want to be restricted to just thinking about education in higher education. We want to think about, well, how do we meet people where they are in their professional journey? And education truly is for everybody and everybody could benefit from some kind of upskilling, on-the-job training, certifications, and things like that.

Aaron Dun:  

So what is holding them back? Okay, there’s an overwhelming interest in more training supports, education supports. But the reality of it is not everybody is doing that today. What are some of the barriers that the survey sample said they faced when trying to pursue that ongoing education?

Jessica Jones:  

I think we need to understand this population. So one of the biggest barriers is cost, how much it costs either if they’re pursuing a degree or community college or certification and things like that. Another thing is the work schedule. Like I said, these are people that are working full time, more than 30 hours a week, maybe it’s one job, maybe it’s multiple jobs, but to be able to balance pursuing additional education with their work schedules can be a challenge. And then also household caretaking responsibilities. So they have families, they sometimes have children; we know about the “sandwich generation” where people are taking care of their parents and their children. So we have to consider that, as you know, thinking about the barriers and challenges that people face when pursuing further education.

Aaron Dun:  

And they’re not small challenges. They’re definitely ones that you would expect, as you said, based on the demographics. So in that context, though, you know, what role do employers play here for supporting caregivers and pursuing that ongoing education? And what are the outcomes that we would expect for that agency if they were able to provide the supports?

Jessica Jones:  

Yeah, so we asked them what role did education play in how they consider staying in their current role or even thinking about their next job offer. And again, the overall preference is that they would choose to join or stay at an agency if they were offered more opportunities to continue education, on-the-job training, further education, and things like that. So 94% of caregivers say access to further education is an important consideration in accepting a job offer. So you know, that’s like an overwhelming preference85%.

Aaron Dun:  

Again, you’ve got to say that again, what was that number?

Jessica Jones:  

Ninety-four percent of caregivers say access to further education is an important consideration in accepting a job offer.

Aaron Dun:  

That is astounding to me. And I’ve already seen this data. So it’s still astounding to me, to hear you say it makes it even more astounding. Why do you think that is?

Jessica Jones:  

Again, I think we don’t give the caregivers credit; they really want to do their job well, and they’re really looking for an employer that’s going to believe in them and support them in their professional life in that way. I think one of the gems of doing the surveys, when you open up the comments and see what people say, that’s always fun for me. And overwhelmingly, one, people love CareAcademy classes, and two, they just want to take more classes. Like, that is what people are saying. They’re like, “Oh, how do I take more classes? Like, what do I need to do?” So it’s not surprising, it’s like, wow, I didn’t know it was that overwhelming. But when you start to read the signals, you’re like, yeah, they really are motivated to learn.

Aaron Dun:  

So a classic agency response here, I’ve heard it many, many times, is I want to offer more training, I want to offer things like tuition reimbursement, I want to provide access to ongoing education, but if I make that investment, and then they leave, what have I gotten for my investment? But the data tells something different, doesn’t it?

Jessica Jones:  

It does—they’ll stay! And maybe you can’t predict how long, but if you can get them to stay, one month, two months, six months, a year, two years, I mean, that’s a lot to gain as an employer. So I don’t see really any downsides to offering those opportunities because, you know, the care workers, they are looking for you to be an employer of choice. And if you raise your standard and become that, they’re going to reward you. There’s no doubt about that.

Aaron Dun:  

What was the number? Some very high number of people said they would stay.

Jessica Jones:  

Eighty-five percent! So again, like, 8 in 10 people say they will stay; I mean, what more could you want?

Aaron Dun:  

I think you made a good point there, too. You don’t know how long they’re going to stay. But, you know, in an incredibly tight labor market, getting somebody to stay longer, however longer that “longer” represents, is very valuable to you as an agency and to your clients, and ultimately to the full team as well. So they stay an extra month because you gave them those supports, that would potentially be good. Six months, even better, a year, you know, now we’re really generating better outcomes for your clients for sure. How does that translate into job satisfaction? Did the data give us any indication on how ongoing training opportunities and support might impact the caregivers – how they feel about their job?

Jessica Jones:  

Yeah, again, a high number—88% said they would feel more satisfied at their job if given opportunities to improve their skills through further education. So I mean, the signals are clear: They will be more satisfied, they will be more likely to stay, they are highly encouraged when accepting or considering a job offer. So 80 to 90% across the board.

Aaron Dun:  

Wow. So they’re more likely to choose you as an agency, they’re more likely to stay, and they’re more likely to be satisfied. That seems like a home run for agencies. And yet the data said something else kind of interesting about how often agencies are talking to their caregivers about ongoing education.

Jessica Jones:  

Yes, 75% said their employer had never talked to them about ongoing education or training. So 70% say they are interested. But 75% said their employer had never talked to them. I see that as a huge gap, and a huge opportunity that the employers are missing out on. So I hope people see this as a signal of how they could leverage this data and really break through as an employer of choice for their employees.

Aaron Dun:  

Yeah, and you hit on that. I mean, this is an incredibly tight labor market. We talk to agencies all the time, who are scrambling to find caregivers. And when they have them, they’re struggling to keep them, and even when they have them, they need more. You know, Kevin Smith, who’s on our advisory board here, Best of Care in Massachusetts, he talks about, like “I can hire 100 caregivers today. And I can hire 100 caregivers tomorrow, and I can hire 100 caregivers the day after that.” And yet, here we are, there’s a really strong signal. And yet 75% of agencies aren’t talking to their caregivers about what they can do here. It’s sort of mind-boggling to me, but it’s also sort of a call to arms, a call to action. And this is also completely within an agency’s control and the kinds of things that an agency could do. The data was pretty clear here too, like, what should agencies do as a first step to having this conversation and building up the opportunity for their staff?

Jessica Jones:  

Yes, so again, we talked to caregivers about what kind of supports would most help them access these opportunities. Number one was monetary support, you know, tuition reimbursement, or some other form of monetary support for continued education. Flexible work schedules. So you know, that connection to those barriers to access, and as well, just general support from their employer. So you know, those are things that, again, like you said, are completely within the agency’s control. There are some opportunities and levers that they could pull to help their employees access those opportunities.

Aaron Dun:  

I know that pay rates are an ongoing topic. I know that was something else that we asked, and I know that was high on the list. But I think we all collectively, as an industry, recognize that that isn’t necessarily within the agency’s control. You know, what the client is willing to pay, what reimbursement happens from either Medicare, Medicaid, or from the VA, or from, you know, life insurance or long term care insurance policies, there are a lot of variables there that are more systemic to the market. This is a variable, it’s a lever that agencies can use today to materially improve their retention and recruiting that’s completely within their control.

Jessica Jones:  

I agree. We recognize that there are some things that are out of the agency’s control when it comes to policy and how that works. But, you know, we encourage them to think outside the box a little bit, you know, this is what this data was for, you know, what are the other opportunities that we’re missing, that can help us advance this industry to care for the millions of older adults and people who need assistance in this population? You know, we’re saying we need a million more care workers. So how do we get creative and put our boots on the ground and say, how do we make this happen?

Aaron Dun:  

Well, this is really fascinating research. As we start to close here today. Was there anything else in the data that really surprised you, that stood out? Was anything about this research that—you’ve been doing this a long time, both for us and for others—have you seen this kind of a clear signal before? Anything else that jumped off the page?

Jessica Jones:  

I mean, like we’ve said, you know, the most surprising thing was the big gap between the people who are interested in education and their lack of access to it. So when they’re saying that 75% of their employers had never given them access to those opportunities or talked to them about it, that was like, wow, you know, that was like a mind-blowing moment for me. Because like, the contrast. It’s just crazy. And there’s a huge opportunity. So that’s really what stood out to me. And just in general, I think as far as this research, what was really rewarding for me is that I really believe in the home care workers and us supporting them, because we really do need them. And, you know, we don’t know enough about them, you know, we need to recruit and retain and we need to improve this workforce, but we don’t know a lot about them. Fun fact, though, is that the last national home health aide survey sponsored by the US government was in 2007.

Aaron Dun:  

Wow.

Jessica Jones:  

That’s over a decade ago, but yet this is the fastest-growing and most in-demand workforce in the US economy. We need a million more workers in the next decade. But we haven’t even taken the time to really get to know them and figure out, how do we actually leverage this workforce to meet our goals and support the people that we need to support. So yeah, it’s all exciting.

Aaron Dun:  

That’s a great summation: The time is now. Jessica, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. It was very illuminating. I appreciate your presentation of the data and the story here and the signal for agencies. The full report is available at www.carecademy.com. And we look forward to talking with you in the future on additional research. Thank you for joining, Jessica.

Jessica Jones:  

Thank you for having me.

Aaron Dun:  

And that closes today’s podcast. Thank you to our guests and thank you to you, our listeners. Please visit www.carecademy.com to learn more. Be sure to subscribe for future updates wherever you get your podcasts and five-star reviews are always appreciated.

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