Preparing Senior Living Business Professionals for Baby Boomers’ Not So Senior Lifestyle

Scott Eckstein

With advances in technology, hospitality and recreation services, and other amenities, today’s senior living communities are becoming much more synonymous with Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” than Johnny Cash’s “Home of the Blues.” In fact, Buffett is opening a chain of retirement communities inspired by his classic song: a $1 billion collaboration will create 7,000 homes in Daytona Beach, Florida, offering active adults 55 and older unmatched recreation, dining, and night life experiences.

“The new senior living communities are not old folks’ homes anymore—they are more like upscale hotels, and there aren’t enough managers to run the businesses. The technology and the lifestyle side of senior living will be some of the most entrepreneurial career spaces moving forward,” says Scott Eckstein, Carson College clinical assistant professor of hospitality and senior living executive in residence at WSU North Puget Sound at Everett. “We need to make senior living ‘sexy’ to business students early in their academic careers.”

Driven by emerging trends in the seniors industry, the Carson College School of Hospitality Business Management is developing new opportunities to prepare this next generation of professionals and help bridge the growing workforce gap.

Envisioning the future

As baby boomers (individuals born between 1946 and 1964) live longer, healthier, and more active lives, millennials, and even Generation Z, in the next five to ten years will play a significant role in meeting the industry’s needs for succession planning and developing future leaders as they continue to overtake older generations in the workplace.

Through classroom and online learning, and experiential field trips, the school is showing students that senior housing is not what it used to be. As one example, for their final project, Eckstein tasked hospitality students with writing a group research paper discussing what future products and terminology baby boomers envision will be part of the senior living environment.

“In all likelihood, we won’t be using the term ‘senior’ as an industry,” Eckstein says. “Boomers do not like the terms ‘senior,’ ‘senior housing,’ or even ‘senior care.’ We are alerting students early on to this upcoming change in the conversation to help them develop a different mindset toward ‘retirement’ communities, though even the term ‘retirement’ will also be changing as we move forward.”

Professional certificate program

To serve industry professionals, operators, and professionals from other fields interested in learning about the senior living industry, the school is in the process of developing an online, on-demand professional certificate program with topics focusing on:

  • History and philosophy of senior living
  • Leadership
  • Resident care services
  • Customer experience
  • Financial management
  • Operations management
  • Sales and marketing
  • Risk and compliance

The certificate will give students a well-rounded background in many managerial aspects of the senior living space. They will also learn about practices involved in developing senior living communities, as well as of the emotional intelligence required to successfully manage them.

“Preparing the workforce is crucial to the senior living industry in order for it to be successful,” says Eckstein. “Boomers will be transitioning and repurposing in hoards, and the industry is not ready for it.”

Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living

To continue building momentum in its senior living offerings, the school is also proposing the formation of the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living, a hub for senior living-specific programs and research opportunities to improve the industry for residents and other senior living business stakeholders. Named for Granger Cobb, one of the founding fathers of the WSU senior living program, the institute will focus on three critical dimensions: workforce development of future employees and current staff; collaborative, sponsored research; and undergraduate education.

While there are universities around the country focusing on various aspects of this industry, the institute will be the only program embedded within a hospitality school housed in an accredited college of business. Benefits to students will include opportunities to learn a transdisciplinary curriculum, travel awards to attend senior living industry conferences, connections to internships, scholarships, and multiday field trips, to name a few opportunities.

“The goal is to be the program of choice for students and industry seeking an operationally focused senior living management program, supported by a solid business foundation,for education, training, employment, and support,” says Nancy Swanger, associate dean and director of the School of Hospitality Business Management. “The formation of the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living makes perfect sense for all the right reasons.”

Learn more about the Carson College School of Hospitality Senior Living Program.