Employees feel more rewarded when they have tools to do a great job, which leads to higher retention rates, a long-term care education expert said Monday.

With a 10-year low for unemployment rates (4.3% for May 2017) and the possibility of rising minimum wages, staffing throughout the post-acute care industry has become a more urgent priority than usual. “Winning Staffing Strategies for Post Acute Providers,” a well-attended session at the Post Acute Link conference on Monday, tackled both challenges and opportunities.

“We are feeling the pressure in a lot of different areas,” said Randy Richardson, the president of Vi Living in Chicago. “When you are starting to compete with McDonald’s for $15 an hour, you have got to do some things differently to make your organization sticky.”

In order to combat these issues, Richardson emphasized training and development.

Despite warnings of how too much training is a “wasted resource,” he said employees feel more rewarded when they have tools to do a great job.

“In the long run, when people find that they have gone to another organization and they find that the culture isn’t nearly what they left, they come home,” he said. “A lot of people, especially in the caregiving side of this business, they are there because they feel like they can make a difference in someone’s life. It is more than a paycheck; it is an emotional connection.”

He believes Vi Living’s program, Vi Wings, has contributed to the company’s success. The program matches employees with someone in a lateral position, letting them ask for help without the intimidation the employee could feel from a mentor or boss. Richardson said the company has cut turnover significantly within the first year of implementing the program.

Consider focusing on millennials, panel members advised. Melinda Phillips, panel member and chief recruiting officer at BAYADA Home Health Care in New Jersey, said the difference between millennials and other generations is not that they don’t want to stay in one job their whole life, but but rather they want to find new opportunities. If a company offers them opportunities to grow within, millennial retention will be higher, she said.

Other suggestions for improving recruitment and retention include screening tools during the recruitment process and reorganizing staff duties in order to increase wages and in turn raise retention rates.

The PAL conference continues in Chicago through Tuesday.