Want a career where you can make a real difference in people’s lives? One with plenty of opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship? One that allows you to be your own boss, or take the path of traditional employment with plenty of demand for skilled professionals?
With a growing population of people over the age of 65, career opportunities that involve working with seniors are growing and are in the spotlight amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
George Brown College’s Recreation Management in Gerontology program prepares graduates to create leisure and recreation programs for older adults. This can happen in long-term care facilities, with associations and organizations, in community environments such as condo corporations and retirement homes, or in individuals’ homes. The program is the only one of its kind in Ontario and there’s increasing demand for graduates.
Pam Gauci, a professor and George Brown alumna, says this program prepares grads for both front-line and administrative roles, including management positions. And there's big demand for creative and innovative new talent in the field.
“This field is growing so rapidly. Now that the spotlight is on long-term care and seniors in general, and we have the government’s attention as to what is best for them, I do feel like in the next five or 10 years we’re going to see a huge push toward thinking outside the box about how we can accommodate and take care of our seniors,” she says. “We’re going to see new career pathways. The sky is the limit.”
Students working with seniors remotely
Students in the Recreation Management in Gerontology program get a lot of real-world and on-the-job experience that starts in their first semester. Those in-person experiences have shifted to virtual opportunities amid COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the hands-on opportunities is helping seniors stay connected online, Program Coordinator Molly Marrack said. First-year students earn a Cyber Seniors badge by helping older adults learn how to use their computers and provide social interaction online.
"Cyber Seniors became overwhelmed with seniors trying to learn how to use Zoom and other video chat services,” Marrack says. “A lot of our students are answering the call.”
The Recreation Management in Gerontology program was the first college program in Canada to integrate the mentorship training program into its curriculum. First-year students earn the Cyber Seniors mentorship badge and second-year students can start a chapter at their field placement agency.
Wide range of career possibilities
Marrack proudly cites graduate success stories that demonstrate the creative career possibilities.
Graduate Ashley Kwong started Memory and Company, a respite resort that provides short and longer-term accommodation for people living with memory loss. Kwong’s service has received national and international attention — a researcher from the London School of Economics chose Memory and Company as a model for the future of dementia care.
Marrack says another grad, Katelynne Laarakker, returned to her hometown in Muskoka and re-launched WISE Mobile Active Living Centre, visiting small communities in the region bringing activation and socialization programming to seniors in small and underused community rooms. She also ensured the seniors could break bread together.
“Watching her pack up and move out to visit the seniors with this programming, and with a nice meal included, was just fantastic," Marrack said. “I think that sums up what we do.”