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Feds: New competency model will benefit long-term care industry

The Department of Labor has released a competency model for the long-term care industry that officials hope will solve long-standing issues of low wages and a high staff turnover rate.

The Long-term Care, Supports and Services Competency Model is designed to create a quality workforce needed to serve the millions of aging Baby Boomers and disabled who will soon need the industry’s services.

[See related stories: Long-term care industry an economic driver; job quality endangers long-term care industry]

Its intention is “to represent a compilation of the key knowledge, skills and abilities required for workers engaged in the activities to provide long-term care, supports and services,” officials said, and can be used as a model for “writing job descriptions, developing or evaluating curriculum or creating skill standards.”

The model is divided into nine groups, each representing increasing levels of specialization. They include personal effectiveness competencies, academic competencies, workplace competencies, industry-wide technical competencies, industry sector competencies and specializations within specific occupations.

“The models are an excellent guide to leaders at the operational level for both employee recruitment and identification of continuing education needs,” said Matthew Maupin, administrator of Lutheran Life Villages in Fort Wayne, Ind., and a blogger on the long-term care industry. “Often as leaders we focus solely on technical competencies without consideration of broader foundational principles, leading to increased training costs and ultimately employee turnover. The models support professional development programs geared towards customer service, communication and utilization of technological efficiencies, which is precisely what the upcoming long-term care workforce needs for the upcoming influx of Baby Boomers requiring care.”

The long-term care industry hasn't defined a quality workforce, said Robyn Stone, executive director of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofits focused on quality of life for America’s aging population. “You can’t really talk about a quality workforce unless you can describe what people are supposed to do and have some standard against which you can evaluate that,” she said. “Competency-based approach establishes the areas of practice that people need to have – the skills and knowledge – and can demonstrate and so it sets markers for being able to differentiate between certain folks and others.”

“What makes a good direct care worker? The competency-based approach really provides a foundation for that,” she said. “It also helps people to be able to make decisions around who to hire – are they investing in the right place, how do you continue to look at your workforce over time and does it measure up? It also provides a base for also looking at how do you set your thresholds for wages, benefits, compensation, all of those kinds of things. Once we have a competency-based system, then we can begin to talk about, ‘OK, now how do we talk about appropriate wages and benefits’ and what have you. Without that, it’s really hard to discuss it.”

“Identifying workplace competencies needed to do a job well is key to building and maintaining a high quality direct support workforce,” said Lori Sedlezky, MSW, a project coordinator for the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the Institute on Community Integration in Minnesota, who helped develop the competency model.

“Direct service workforce jobs are historically low-paying, under-valued jobs,” she said. “Identifying competencies and building competency-based workforce development strategies has the potential to positively affect wages and societal recognition of this work.”

By having competencies, she added, the industry will also be able to improve employee retention because a competency-based system will allow employees to follow career paths across various sectors within the industry.

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