Caregiving is America’s largest profession and the job role with the widest gap between supply and demand.

Four and a half million long-term care workers support individuals in institutions and home-based settings across the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted a steep rise in that figure because of demographic trends even before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

Now, long-term care facilities are facing the three-fold staffing challenge of an aging U.S. population, COVID-19 and seasonal flu. Traditional CNA training programs have failed to keep up with this growing demand, creating a critical caregiver shortage.

If the caregiver gap is to be bridged, it will require innovative recruitment and training solutions. At the same time that long-term care facilities are facing growing staffing deficits, many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, which has compounded long-term job displacement caused by globalization, automation and artificial intelligence.

The unemployment rate was 6.9% in October, with 3.6 million out of work for more than 27 weeks. Connecting these people with rewarding healthcare careers offers one solution for two huge societal problems. 

Workers in several industries impacted by the pandemic have transferable skills, such as communication and customer service, that would be useful in caregiving professions. Training and placement programs that retrain workers who have become unemployed — or are currently in low-wage jobs and looking for a change — will ensure long-term care providers have the caregivers their residents need and give career advancement opportunities to those entering the field.

The millennial generation is in debt, on average saddled with $27,251 in non-mortgage debt. They are falling behind financially faster than any other generation.

Education costs can initially seem like a hurdle for many potential caregivers, especially if they have been unexpectedly laid off and are juggling their children’s remote schooling. A training-to-placement model, where the employer covers tuition costs in exchange for an employment commitment after certification, makes a CNA career accessible to anyone. 

Curricula that are primarily delivered in an online learning environment support virtual attendance and can be viewed on-demand to fit into challenging schedules. In addition to gaining knowledge about the practical aspects of being a frontline healthcare worker, good training programs also teach interpersonal skills, such as empathetic listening and patience. Typically, digital content is supplemented with practice labs and clinical sessions on the job.

We can also address the caregiver crisis by creating short-term training opportunities that upskill the workforce quickly and cost-effectively, such as the National Temporary Nurse Aide Certification program. Many nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities are unaware that they can use CARES Act funding to offer National Temporary Nurse Aide Certification courses to temporary workers and to existing staff. Aides can later continue their training to become CNAs if they choose. 

Existing staff may benefit from a COVID-Ready Caregiver Certification providing information and resources for staying healthy during the pandemic, helping maintain staff levels. Many details learned through this program can be applied to future public health emergencies. 

This pandemic has created a perfect storm of challenges, including safely caring for more patients and addressing high long-term unemployment. With thoughtful recruitment and training approaches, these two problems can help solve each other, ensuring that our society’s most vulnerable members are cared for and those unemployed due to the pandemic find a new, rewarding career path.   

Chris Hedrick is founder of NextStep and previously served as CEO of Kepler, an innovative online/offline university program in Rwanda. He was also CEO of Intrepid Learning, a venture capital-backed learning technology and outsourcing company.