Earning the Certified Director of Assisted Living (CDAL) certification is a major achievement. But it’s not simply an individual achievement. It elevates a community, a company, and the industry overall.
That means organizations can benefit from investing in a culture where the CDAL certification is recognized and appropriately valued and where every employee knows its value.
Once industry leaders emphasize this inside their companies, Executive Directors will be banging on their doors asking to become CDALs,” says Brenda J. Bacon, president & CEO, Brandywine Living. “And we all benefit as companies and as an industry.”
Here, CEOs and Senior Living Certification Commission (SLCC) executive director John Schulte share ideas on making CDAL certification part of your community and company culture.
This may be the most important point: The CDAL test is highly rigorous. It takes significant preparation. Merrill Gardens’ president David Eskenazy says it’s comparable in difficulty to the CPA exam (and he knows whereof he speaks, having himself become a CPA.)
When he heard some managers feared going for the CDAL because they thought it would have career consequences if they didn’t pass, he made it a point to communicate the right perspective.
“We talk openly about the failure rate,” he says. “It puts it on a par with the CPA exam and the bar exam. “When they understand it that way, they recognize two things: One, that it’s a significant accomplishment if you get it; and two, that it’s not embarrassing if you don’t.”
At Merrill Gardens, every general manager with the company is expected to be CDAL certified: “It’s not an option.”
Eskenazy established this requirement from the beginning of the program. The company sends email reminders about certification and follows through with human resources.
“When you monitor something like that, people get the understanding that it must be important,” Eskenazy says. “It raises the level of importance accordingly in the organization.”
Requiring professional certification is not unusual in other industries, he points out, so it makes sense that CDAL certification should be a requirement in assisted living.
Several companies offer assistance such as reimbursement for study materials, time off to study, and help finding study groups. Eskenazy makes it clear to Merrill Gardens general managers that “they won’t have to lay out a penny.” If you’re a prospective CDAL concerned about costs or time, ask about help.
Tie the certification to things executive directors care about, such as improving residents’ quality of life and making a difference. Consider sharing your own story of a risk that was worth it.
Add a mention of CDAL to the monthly meeting list, put a reminder in internal communications, or send out an occasional email about the certification to keep it top of mind. This way, certification becomes something customary and expected, not a far-off aspiration.
Send the message that this means far more than just checking a box; it’s a life investment.
“An executive director or general manager may say, ‘Why do I need more initials after my name?’” says Brenda J. Bacon, president and CEO at Brandywine Living.
A director may say, “’I’ve been doing this job for five years, I’m not going to get a raise, it takes time to study, and what will my boss think if I fail the test the first time?’”
Her answer goes to the heart of the matter: “What we are going for here is that this is not a ‘job’; it is a career. It is a profession.”
“Being a Certified Director of Assisted Living connotes that you intentionally chose to be an expert and leader in the business of senior living, and it is a business … as well as a calling … but skills are necessary, and skills should be recognized.”
A tight market for professionals doesn’t mean leaving CDAL off your hiring requirements. This helps create consistency in the industry overall. Conversely, an offer to help candidates earn the designation could attract strongly motivated candidates.
Have a party or ceremony for the new CDALs. Announce it in internal communications or through email to the full organization. Merrill Gardens issues a pin and awards a bonus of $1,000 for those who get the certification.
Whether you’re a company leader or a new CDAL, you can share the news through a press release sent to local media and regional business news—the Senior Living Certification Commission website slcccertification.org has a format ready to use. Put the credential on business cards and community websites. Use it in networking events and in presentation templates.
Finally, those who have earned the CDAL certification should use it. Stay up to date and check in with CDAL peers at events and in the LinkedIn group. The SLCC page gives directions on how to use the credential and stay updated in the certification records.
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