Young adult Hispanic woman is talking with young adult Caucasian blonde woman and young adult African American woman outside on college campus. Women are nursing or medical students. They are wearing hospital scrubs and stethoscopes.

A new certified nursing assistant recruitment program aims to attract thousands of new, young care workers with a variety of incentives that could create a sustainable pipeline into the long-term care sector. 

The CNA awareness and recruitment campaign launched by the California Association of Health Facilities takes aim at some of the most stubborn issues underlying the staffing crisis ongoing in California, and throughout the US. 

The keys to the program’s success will be partnerships with employers, expanding public awareness to people not yet aware of opportunities in skilled nursing and building tangible career growth opportunities into the program to retain workers, according to Claire Enright, Executive Director of CAHF’s Quality Care Health Foundation, which manages the CNA program.

“What makes this program unique is that we’re building a relationship between nursing homes and the workforce potential at large,” she told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. “We’re working with employers to build a sustainable pipeline.”

By the end of 2027, the CNA program is projected to recruit nearly 6,000 CNAs.

Attracting a new generation

To reach this lofty goal, the program contracted a major digital advertising campaign through an ad firm aimed at a demographic of 18-to-40 year olds who may not even be aware of the skilled nursing workforce. Raising new awareness will be important to the program’s success, according to Enright, and the program is aimed at bringing in a young and diverse group of workers as a result. 

This will include emphasizing the opportunities for growth and meaningful work in skilled nursing as well as expanding the awareness program from only English ads to include Spanish in the next six months with additional languages to be added over the five-year scope of the program. 

But employee retention is just as important as awareness, and to that end, the program has built in training programs partnering with nursing homes, “earn and learn” programs that have become a more common way of assisting workers complete their education, and a system of “micro-certifications” that continually provide career and pay advancement opportunities for recruits.

These micro-certifications could be earned by new workers every six months, each one providing them with a certified skill in areas such as dementia care, behavioral health or soft skills like workplace leadership. These certifications would be transferable between participating employers in California and each one would come with an incremental wage increase. 

This combination of skill and pay advancement with transferability is an important element for boosting retention in a sector that has struggled to do so, according to Enright.

“We know we’re going to be training people that aren’t necessarily going to stay in long-term care,” she acknowledged, “but our goal is to have a workforce that’s really engaged in its work field and feels receptive and encouraged to stay longer.”

The micro-certification process continues to develop with tracks for CNAs to focus on their interests and facility needs. Over time, these tracks will “absolutely” provide an onramp into higher levels of nursing, according to Enright. 

Early interest

The QCHF program is still in the early stages, but has seen enough interest from California employers that Enright is optimistic the program will meet its recruitment goals.

A pipeline approach is crucial, she emphasized — not just recruiting workers, but investing in them and making sure the best have the resources and incentives to rise to the top of the profession. 

The biggest takeaway, she told McKnight’s, is “recognizing CNAs as a member of the healthcare team and that they are professionals in their own right — that this is not an entry level position. They need to be treated with professional dignity and be compensated for the work that they do.”

She said she hoped other state associations would invest enough resources to enable employers to “curate” their CNAs—actively investing in their most skilled and dedicated professionals to keep them engaged in the skilled nursing field.