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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

Episode 48: Andrew Smith

NIC Future Leader Chair Andrew Smith Discusses Recruiting Through University Outreach

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast: The Senior Living Podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are so excited about today. We’re excited about our listeners whether you’re out there walking your dog or you’re in travel mode or you’re in an airplane or a train or an automobile- we’re just super glad that you’re listening today, right Josh?

Josh: Super excited. Super excited to be here with you buddy in Nashville, my home state (and) not too far from my hometown in Knoxville. So, it’s good to be here at Brookdale headquarters. Are you excited?

Lucas: We’re at HQ- the mothership. We are welcoming our guest Andrew Smith, senior director of innovation and growth strategy. Welcome, Andrew.

Andrew: Hey guys, thanks for having me! Excited to chat.

Lucas: So, Andrew, we’re just going to jump right into it. I’ve got a fiery hot topic question to ask you. Obviously, Brookdale has been in the news a lot lately. There’s one burning question that’s on everybody’s mind in the marketplace- does Brookdale allow jeans on Friday?

Andrew: Well, for all of those listening, I just want you to know that I’m wearing a tank top and jorts right now and it is Tuesday. No, just kidding. We have a policy called “dress for your day.”

Lucas: Okay.

Andrew: That means wear what’s appropriate for your role. So, if we’re doing community visits or talking to residents or partners, we definitely dress up, but otherwise it’s more like a jeans and polo kind of place.

Josh: Awesome.

Lucas: I love it. Well, to get back into a little more serious mode. Obviously, we’ve got a really great topic and questions today. We’re going to dive into the NIC organization. We’re going to dive into the Future Leaders Council. We’re going to also talk about university outreach and recruiting which are really close to each of our hearts here.

So, Andrew, before we do that, give us a little bit of your background and how you got connected to senior living and also at Brookdale.

Andrew: Yeah, sure. I think I’ve got a story that’s similar to a lot of folks in our industry. I kind of fell into it. I’ve been with Brookdale for about 10 years. I went to Vanderbilt University here in Nashville I did not know much about the seniors housing industry. I did not aspire to work in the seniors housing industry. I was a research analyst at the state government and that – I don’t if anyone has worked with the state government – but, the bureaucracy can sometimes be a little bit draining for someone in grad school.

So, nights and weekends I was consulting as designing adult education programs, training programs. That’s what my masters degree is in- adult education. Brookdale was a client and I had my first engagement with Brookdale designing a new hire sales orientation for our memory care product called clear bridge. I lived in a memory care community for a weekend and I just fell in love with the industry. I fell in love with the mission, with how interesting the industry is at this apex of real estate, hospitality and health care, and I begged them to hire me.

They gave me a chance. That was ten years ago. I’ve had four different jobs at Brookdale since then and I’m going to make a career out of this. It is absolutely an industry that fills your heart and your head. It’s been a good run.

Lucas: We love that. It’s so authentic, which immediately resonates with me and I know it does you, Josh. That’s why you have been thriving in this business as well.

Josh: Yeah, so, interesting to say after 10 years, you think you might make a career. I think you have made a career. That’s safe to say. So, that’s really exciting and I agree with you. It’s like some of the folks that I’m finding are the most passionate and most excited about the industry didn’t actually really know anything about the industry, didn’t aspire to be in it. We may dovetail a little bit later on in our conversation about the opportunity that exists out there to really preach the message of really what our industry is all about and the huge opportunities for young people that are just entering school, just entering the workforce that are looking for what I heard you say- you fell in love with the mission.

That’s one of the things I love about the younger workforce. It seems like so many of them are wanting something more than just the status quo show up to a job, do a job and go home. They want something meaningful with a purpose and a strong meaning behind it. So, it’s awesome to hear that you landed into an organization like that.

Andrew: Well, I love what you guys are doing- bridging the gap. You’re telling the stories of the industry and getting it out there. So, I just really applaud what you guys are trying to do. I think it goes a long way in educating folks that are outside of the industry like I was that have no idea what it was, what it’s really all about, what we’re trying to accomplish and all of the great opportunities that exist within the industry for a career.

Lucas: That’s a great transition into the NIC, or the NIC organization. Andrew, just give us- what is the NIC organization?

Andrew: It’s a 501(c)3. It stands for the National Investment Center. We often say NIC or NIC which stands for the National Investment Center. Their mission is to support access and choice for America’s seniors by providing data, analytics and connections. They express that mission and accomplish it in a lot of ways.

One of the things they’re most known for is their NIC map. They collect data from a lot of senior housing operators and they use that data to educate the investors in the industry or who are interested in investing in the seniors housing and care industry, again, to support access and choice for America’s seniors. That’s only one of the many things that they do.

Lucas: Huge organization. Josh and I actually, I mean, that’s one of the foundations of our friendship, (it) was catapulted from the fall NIC conference of last year.

Josh: Yeah, so that’s been fascinating. I started out in the industry many years back and NIC- I’m glad you clarified that for our listeners because we have a very diverse audience and I remember when I first got my call as a young administrator from NIC I was like, who is NIC and why is he asking me all these personal questions about my community?

As I learned, and later I really had the opportunity to actually go and experience one of these mega-conferences in Chicago, quite honestly for a young administrator, it was very overwhelming but it was awesome. So, as I’ve gotten older and gotten more involved, I’ve obviously learned to have a great appreciation for what all goes on at NIC.

And now today, to sit down with both of you guys, who are actually- I hope you’ll talk a little bit about y’all’s role with what you’re doing with a leadership capacity because it’s fascinating to sit down and hear what goes on behind the scenes where NIC is going and things like that. So, really cool.

Andrew: Yeah and I think NIC really kind of rounds out the industry organizations for seniors housing because we have great operator-oriented industry organizations like ASHA and Argentum.

But what I found is really unique and interesting about NIC is how it brings the investors and the capital providers perspective into the conversation. I have worked for an operator my entire career in this industry. I have learned a lot through my interaction with a NIC organization on how do we think about real estate investment? How do we think about the buildings that we’re operating in and what’s the future of that growth in our industry? So, it’s a great organization.

Lucas: And the quality of content that they put out, it’s so much when you go. It’s like drinking from a fire hose and you wish you could be there for 10 days to soak it all in when it’s really only a couple days, two and a half days or so that’s there.

Future Leaders Council is what I want to transition to next. Andrew, you are the chair of the Future Leaders Council. It was really a career goal for me to get my name just even in the hat. It’s a very elite group and I’m honored to say that I’m on the council this year. I’ve been onboarded myself. Andrew’s helped me and what a process. It’s been amazing.

So, Andrew, tell us what the Future Leaders Council is.

Andrew: Sure. The Future Leaders Council is a group of about 8 people per year. It’s a 3-year term. It’s a part of NIC’s mission fulfillment goal and it has two main components to it. The first is it’s a group of up and coming leaders in industry to help advance its mission. So, we do a lot of work on behalf of NIC. It’s all volunteer leaders- everybody is like you and me, Lucas, who have day jobs and just are passionate about what NIC is trying to accomplish and how we can support it.

But, it also helps develop those future leaders to take on leadership roles for NIC and the industry. There’s been a lot of success come out of it. One of the members of the Future Leaders Council Oversight Committee of the NIC board- try saying that quickly- is a former FLC’er. We have FLC’ers who are serving on conference planning committees, former FLC- alums of the FLC- are serving on conference planning committees.

So, it’s really started to pay dividends, I think, for the NIC organization and it’s just such a great opportunity to contribute to the NIC mission.

Josh: Some of our listeners who have been listening to our podcast since we started earlier in the year, they know that really this podcast idea started in the lobby of the Chicago hotel at NIC. We were literally having the conversation, this is such a valuable conference. We wish that everybody in the industry all the way down to the community leaders could experience this. How in the world can we take and share this information and the influence that NIC has on us to everybody. That was (how) we came up with the idea of the podcast. Like, why don’t we do a podcast?

So, literally, in the lobby, we’re like, we’re going to to do this last year around this time.

Lucas: It’s amazing. So, with the Future Leaders Council, it would take 10 podcasts just to scratch the surface of all the things they are connected to. Let’s dive into something that’s very close to all of our hearts in different ways- recruiting university outreach in the internship program. Let’s talk about that.

Andrew: Oh yeah, so, I think as we all know and as we’ve all experienced I think- there aren’t enough people who know enough about the seniors housing industry as an opportunity to work. I recall at Vanderbilt when we were thinking about graduating, what the next step was, everybody was interested in being a consultant or going into finance. There was no concept of seniors housing.

So, one of the goals of the FLC is to increase awareness in the university and graduate level programs of seniors living. One of the ways we do that is each one of the FLC members attempts and is expected to go to their alma mater or to a school that’s close to them and try to get in front of students, talk about seniors housing and care, what the opportunities are, how the industry is set up, etc.

We also try to recruit providers- capital providers- of industry companies to host internships that are offered through NIC’s university outreach and internship program. It’s a relatively new program, it’s only a couple years old, but we are celebrating. Last year, we had seven companies provide internships and we had 13 universities participate in the program.

So, small, but growing. It’s just a great effort I think of NIC and the FLC to try and get the message out there and give young, excited, smart future leaders of seniors housing an opportunity to experience the industry through that internship program.

Lucas: Josh, you have experience of doing this. You’ve been doing in your own right doing university outreach.

Josh: Yeah. So, for years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a lot of different universities and colleges. I’m always amazed that when we get invited to come in and talk, it’s usually more of your senior level classes and their inviting different industries in while these people are looking to get out and get a job. Most of the room, they have never heard of senior living or they don’t know what it is. And if they have heard it, it’s unfortunately a very negative and really tainted not reality of what senior living is.

I love how you mentioned experience because I think what happens is when people do experience senior living and the mission, that’s what totally sells them on it and that’s what changes their mind. We’ve got experience. Our producer, Sara, that is often times behind the camera, she started in journalism and had never thought about senior housing. She just so happened we were doing a Give Back in the form of a charity and raising money for Alzheimer’s. Through a volunteering capacity, she learned about the senior housing industry from an experiential aspect and wanted something a little bit more meaningful and already had an extremely successful career, but wanted something more. So, that right there, that story, could be duplicated over and over and over again.

I think so often we try to make our business, our industry transactional. What we have the greatest opportunity in our industry to expose is how relational it is, you know. At all these conferences that we get to go to, I think some of the things we’re doing wrong and even on our panels, everyone’s wanting to talk about the labor crisis. No doubt, there’s a labor crisis, but a lot of the narrative and a lot of what people are wanting to talk about the wage crisis and that.

But, you know, when we start talking about that and start trying to make the narrative of, ‘hey, we need to be trying to compare ourselves to Chick-fil-a’ and how can we compete with Chick-fil-a? That’s really the wrong narrative because we’re a lot more than chicken sandwiches here. We’re about human touch and human interaction. If we change the narrative and focus it on our mission as an industry, that’s where the opportunity is.  

Andrew: We talk about that a lot at Brookdale- associate value proposition. We have, I think as an industry, a very unique value proposition to take to anybody no matter the kind of role you’re interested in. Whether it is- I mean I told students at university all the time that you don’t have to go be an operator. You don’t have to go run a building or have a role in a building. You can work for a capital provider. You can work for a corporate office and be in HR or be in marketing. If you want to be a social media marketing expert, seniors housing could be a great industry to go be that expert in and it’s a growing component of our industry.

I like to introduce them to what the mission is of our industry, what you can do well and do good at the same time and I think that’s the value proposition we have to offer that very few industries can offer to someone.

Josh: So, give some insight that may help some- you know, we have a wide listener group, we’ve got some mom and pop operators out there that are trying to stay relevant and keep up with the changing times in technology and strategies all the way to some of your folks here at Brookdale and all between, regional operators.

Your team is kind of leading the charge on innovation and strategy. What are some of the ideas you have for the future or some things and successful strategies right now that you’re implementing to help tap into spreading the mission of industry into that younger labor market to help it be more attractive.

Andrew: Certainly as the FLC, the university outreach program is a big driver for us. From Brookdale’s perspective, we are trying to leverage our marketing expertise- things like our branding, our messaging, all the channels through which we access potential residents and take that and apply it to our HR outreach and trying to broaden the channel, broaden the access to potential associates up and down the organization, left and right in the organization.

That’s things like, how do we make sure the messaging that we offer aligns to where that potential associate is in their own journey of seeking a role? So, we’re actively building tools and messages to target a broad audience that’s maybe never heard of seniors housing. So, how do we communicate to them the head and the heart, the do well and do good, of our industry?

Similarly, if someone is in the market and they’re searching on Indeed or they’re looking on LinkedIn, how do we have targeted messaging to them to explain to them what Brookdale could offer as a potential employer.

The biggest thing we’re doing is trying to take our marketing expertise and apply it to acquiring great talent. I don’t think that we have employed as well as we could and I think some of the smaller operators and regional providers do a great job of building relationships with universities and kind of local pipelines of talent. I think that is a phenomenal strategy because you’re also getting connected with the community.

Some people say we’re in the healthcare industry. I disagree, I think we’re in the human care industry. Those relationships and that local experience, those local connections, they not only drive connections for potential associates or caregivers or executive directors or whatever, they also make the community itself a more vibrant place being connected to the broader community.

I’m a big proponent of- and we talk a lot at Brookdale about (it) – winning locally. How to we set our teams up to build those local relationship. I guess those would be two I’d recommend. One is leverage your marketing expertise to drive talent acquisition and make sure that you’re focusing on local relationships because this is a human care business.

Josh: So, I love that, because- in particular the local relationships- everybody can relate to that no matter if you’re a single community operator or a regional operator all the way to Brookdale.  Everybody has a sphere of influence. Everybody has the ability in that sphere locally to develop relationships.

Honestly, as a small regional operator for my career, that’s how it’s happened. That’s how you get invited to a major university like the University of Tennessee to just go in and talk with them. It’s not as intimidating as you might think because they’re humans just like everyone else. It’s pretty cool.

Andrew: It’s important to get people over the non-profit kind of orientation that a lot of folks have toward our industry. We have a great mission. Nonprofit and for-profit providers both do great work, but I think a lot of undergraduate who I’ve spoken with most often, they look at seniors housing and they think, oh, that’s a place where I can go and feel good and really do something nice. But they don’t really see it as a potential career opportunity.

It’s really important to get them over that hump to say, no, you can make a great career out of this professionally and you can do good along the way.

Lucas: I think it’s senior living, it’s the industry that really has the upperhand against all other big real estate verticals because it’s not just real estate, it’s so much more and I think bridging that gap of just knowledge and awareness is really where it’s at. There’s a subset of vendors and partners of the industry which is my category. I love confusing people about who I am and what I’m doing. They’re like, you have a senior living podcast, what are you doing? I say, well I’m a general contractor to the industry. I have, as an outsider coming in, falling in love with senior living because of all the things that you guys talked about.

That awareness and growth, it’s going to bring people in if they know about it.

Andrew: I agree. And I think aging is going mainstream. That’s something I say a lot. We are as an industry and as a society bringing aging up more and the boomers are going to drive that in a bigger way. So, I’m excited to see the growth of the industry and all the opportunities that come out of it.

Josh: Well, in the endless possibilities for creativity, honestly it’s going to take the younger generation and the creativity to think outside of the box to solve so many of the challenges that face our industry which, on the flipside of that, is great opportunities. So, it’s been fascinating to me just in the last 15 years to see how the industries were radically changing. Even how we’re communicating now with the social media and the internet, which our industry still way behind the times on.

But, you two guys are like- Lucas, you’re the kind of LinkedIn, so you know that’s how we connected and it’s amazing how even that can help be a great communication tool to reach the younger generation that’s second nature to.

Lucas: And these are all tools that are available and mostly free and it’s just leveraging those tools and yielding that weapon of telling the love stories and the industry that’s going to draw people in. It’s already baked into the cake- the doing things well, the mission, the feeling great about your job, it’s just shifting that cultural to a platform where it can be easily consumed, heard and understood.

Andrew: You don’t have to make it up, it’s true. Everyday in every one of our communities, some’s life enriched. Just packaging those stories is all you have to do.

Lucas: Yes, awesome guys. Well, time is running out. With that being said, this has been a great conversation and to our listeners, I’m hoping that you’re listening to this and your wheels are spinning in your own mind of what you can do, how you can be the bridge in your own local community to help tell the stories of our industries to recruit great talent to help with care and dignity for our seniors and our aging adults.

Andrew: Can I make an ask?

Lucas: Definitely.

Andrew: Anybody who is listening, anyone who went to a university, try to reach out to them and talk to them about seniors housing. If you need any help with content or anything, we’d be happy to help provide nothing Brookdale specific, I’m saying general industry, if you’re a student, check out NIC’s industry internship program on NIC’s website so you guys can link to that. If you’re a provider or anybody who is serving in or around the senior living industry, we would love to have you host a NIC intern. We have a big pipeline of great talent and really top universities and we’re looking for more hosts for interns. So, anyone of those three, we would love, love for you to participate.

Lucas: Awesome.

Josh: And so, in our show notes, I think we’re going to connect everybody with how they can connect with you and that information. Right, Lucas?

Lucas: Absolutely. (In the) show notes, go down. Just scroll at the bottom of your podcast player. You’ll see all the notes to connect with Andrew Smith, you’ll see the notes to connect to the NIC organization and we’ll make sure that you can connect to Josh and I. We will make sure that your questions are answered and we hope that cry to action that Andrew just gave us, we hope that you take it to heart and don’t delay.

Josh: Be the bridge.

Lucas: Be the bridge. That’s right, that’s what we always say. So, thank you so much for listening today and we hope to connect with you in the future. Thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, Erdman and Sherpa.

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Episode 48: Andrew Smith