When Fortune magazine publishes the inaugural “Best Workplaces in Aging Services” list in September 2018, don’t be surprised if private duty and home health companies make a good showing.

“It’s incredible to see home health companies scoring very well—we had one get as high marks as companies like Google in some areas,” Jacquelyn Kung, who is spearheading the effort to compile the list, told Home Health Care News.

If Kung’s name rings a bell to home care providers, there’s good reason for that. She was one of the co-founders of ClearCare, the home care technology platform that raised $60 million in growth equity investment capital in 2016. With that accomplished, Kung and some her ClearCare teammates were hoping to work together on another venture related to senior care staffing, but the opportunity fell through. That led to a fateful conversation at a San Francisco bar.

“I was crying over drinks with a friend, saying this is a real issue in the industry,” Kung told Senior Housing News. “And my friend said, you know where I work, don’t you?”

That friend was Chinwe Onyeagoro, the president of Great Place to Work, the research and consulting firm that creates the many “Great Workplaces” lists that are published by Fortune each year., including the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Onyeagoro offered to call Fortune and see if the magazine would be interested in doing a list focused on aging services. A few days later, she had an answer: Yes.

The list will be a first for the aging services sector and promises to bring valuable attention to career opportunities in the field, where a labor crunch could reach huge proportions in the coming years. But the list will also be a first for Great Place to Work, which has teamed with Kung to test a new approach.

Bigger, faster impact

Flash forward to today. Kung is now leading a firm called Activated Insights, which is based out of the Great Place to Work corporate campus in San Francisco. Using the Great Place to Work methodology and resources, and drawing on Kung’s insider knowledge of the senior care industry, Activated Insights is leading the effort to compile the “Best Workplaces in Aging Services” list.

It’s the first arrangement of this kind for Great Place to Work, Kung said. While Great Place to Work has has built up expertise and collected a trove of data across a variety of industries, the organization is seeing whether working more closely with experts in particular fields will bring benefits.

“They’re trying out [this approach] to see if working with folks who know the industry well can help them meet their mission and make change faster,” Kung said. “They’ve asked us to document everything we’re doing, and they have ideas for other verticals. But they want to make sure that we can make that impact on the [aging services] industry.”

Kung does bring a wealth of experience. In addition to ClearCare, her resume includes time as a health care consultant with McKinsey, as well as in various leadership roles with Baltimore-based senior living and care provider Erickson Living. She even co-wrote a book—Old is the New Young: Erickson’s Secrets to Healthy Living—that was published in 2009. Her doctoral dissertation was on senior living workforce issues, and her awareness of providers’ staffing challenges goes back even further.

“I grew up in Texas and happened to live across the street from a nursing home,” she said. “One day I walked over there and went in, and all these residents looked at me and said, ‘Are you here to visit us?’ I said yes, and they were so excited. I volunteered every week. It was an understaffed facility. There was a workforce shortage even then.”

A high-touch process

Since the aging services list was announced last November, organizations representing more than 150,000 employees have signed up to be considered for inclusion, according to Kung. These applicants span the continuum, including independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, home health and CCRCs, as well as Area Agencies on Aging, PACE programs, and others.

To be eligible for the list, and a variety of other “Great Workplaces” lists that Fortune publishes, a company must meet certain thresholds and be deemed “certified.” The certification process involves submitting an application and having at least 55% of employees fill out a survey, which is administered over a two-week period.

These employee surveys and other aspects of the process are typically done digitally; in one example of bringing her industry knowledge to bear, Kung was certain that a different approach would be needed for aging services.

“We’re still very much a paper-based industry,” she said.

Activated Insights has come up with senior care-friendly interfaces for the survey. In addition, a program manager is assigned to each organization that applies, to provide a high level of support.

“Senior care companies that aren’t tech savvy are going to get guidance through the process,” she emphasized. “And if their results aren’t what they want, we ask, how can we help you get there?”

That is, if an organization does not yet meet the standard for certification, it can see which areas it needs to address—and no one will know that the company applied and did not receive certification, so there’s no downside risk there, Kung stressed. A standard $995 application fee includes high-level results and a single baseline score that can be a focus for improvement.

“It’s helpful for CEOs to have one number to look at and track,” Kung said.

By paying more, companies can get their data sliced-and-diced and work with Activated Insights to devise improvement plans.

The final “Best Workplaces in Aging Services” list will likely be a mix of all types of employers, of various sizes. So, it could be a particular boon for smaller companies to be recognized right alongside industry giants, Kung noted.

The list should also be a boon for the industry as a whole, which will gain increased exposure and credibility by being featured in Fortune. In addition, companies in the sector will be able to benchmark themselves against the many other businesses that participate in the Great Place to Work process—including potential competitors for workers. These companies run the gamut from Disney and Google to Marriott and Cheesecake Factory.

Though this “Best Workplaces” journey began with Kung feeling downcast at a bar, needless to say, her spirits are much higher these days. Far from being despondent, she is passionately urging senior living and care companies to apply for the list, and quickly.

The last day to complete the certification process is June 18, and applicants are rapidly reserving available two-week slots for conducting their employee surveys. Trying to accommodate a large number of applicants is a good problem to have, though, and Kung is heartened by the level of interest.

“Everyone recognizes what a huge issue workforce is going to be, and they’re excited to see something positive is happening,” she said.

Written by Tim Mullaney