Discovering the Caregivers of Tomorrow

Schlegel Villages pushing for more high school education in health and wellness

By Kristian Partington

The most dedicated team members and caregivers in a long-term care or retirement setting can sometimes step into the role having never officially worked with seniors before. They may never have known what skills and gifts they have to offer had someone not given them a chance and opened the door to opportunity.   

At a time when some long-term care and retirement homes are struggling to fill positions with skilled, compassionate and dedicated team members, every potential connection is important. That’s why Schlegel Villages is making a concerted effort to reach future caregivers by working with school boards across Ontario to expand co-operative education partnerships and develop new specialist high skills major programs in seniors’ health and wellness.

Cassie Wilson would have loved the opportunity to take part in such a program.

She was blown away the instant she entered the grand foyer at the Village of Arbour Trails in Guelph shortly after it opened. She had wanted to work in a retirement home but was never given the opportunity; there was even one located near her home but they wouldn’t even accept her as a volunteer because of her lack of experience.

When she came to Arbour Trails for the first time, she was helping her father deliver two pianos. As a music storeowner, he’d often bring her along to play the newly set-up pianos to ensure they sounded perfect. “I walked in and said ‘wow, this place is amazing.’ ”

She later offered her name and resume, hoping for any job that might become available. “I wanted to listen to the stories of the residents,” Cassie recalls thinking “and share my spirit with them.”

A role serving in the dining room finally presented itself after her persistent follow-ups with the leadership team and today, nearly three years later, she’s the village’s hospitality supervisor. At 21, she not only supports the hospitality team but each day she also cherishes the opportunity to connect with the residents she serves.

“I’ve realized that working with seniors is such a rewarding experience,” Cassie says, and it’s a realization she might never have come to had serendipity not brought her to the village to tune the pianos that day.

Schlegel Villages community relations director Mike Schmidt wants to create more of these opportunities for young people, inspiring them to consider a future in seniors care and in doing so, fill the human resources void that grows larger in the sector every day.

“We have to get these students engaged early so that we have a work-force,” Mike says bluntly. “Anything we can do in advance will help down the road.” It’s an investment in time and energy, connecting with the schools and board officials, but it will be worth the effort if people like Cassie are introduced to a fitting career earlier while gaining valuable experience.

“In high school and coming out of high school, I didn’t have a path to where I really wanted to go,” Cassie says. “Finding your passion and being able to share that with others is really very important.”