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Is It Worth Becoming a Certified Director of Assisted Living?

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By Steve Moran 

While at Argentum, I had a chance to visit with Brenda Bacon, the CEO of Brandywine Living, and Chair of the Senior Living Credentialing Commission (SLCC), about the Certified Director of Assisted Living Program (CDAL). Here is what she had to say.

The Big Goal

The big goal in creating the CDAL certification was to increase the level of professionalism in senior living, with the certification as a way to recognize those who meet certification standards. It is one part of a broader effort to increase quality in senior living. Doing this benefits the professionals themselves, senior living organizations, residents and their families, as well as the team members who work under these leaders.

The other bigger long term goal is to make assisted living so good and so professional that there will not be interest in federal regulation . . . or maybe dreaming really big, that the new gold standard would be a Joint Commission-type organization for senior living that would supplant federal regulation.

State of the CDAL

The first year the CDAL was offered was 2016. From 2016 to 2017, 435 people were granted the CDAL designation. In 2018, the number was 94 -- bringing the total to 529. As of the start of the 2019 Argentum conference, 213 have taken or committed to taking the test.

You are thinking . . . I know you are . . . those are unimpressive numbers -- I asked about this. The first year there was a big push and a number of companies got on board to kick off the effort. Going into the second year they found the qualifications to take the test were overly burdensome, requiring several years of having worked at the executive director level prior to qualifying.

The Senior Living Certification Commission (SLCC) recognized that many skills -- such as Human Resources, budgets, and financial reporting -- can be acquired through working in other industries, such as hospitality, healthcare, etc. (See the revised prerequisites necessary to take the exam HERE.)

The Big Question -- Is It Worth It?

Today, most people who are taking the test are sponsored by their organizations that have a strong commitment to increasing the professionalism of the assisted living sector of senior living and are committed to making the CDAL successful. It is not inexpensive to take the test and -- in addition to paying the fee and taking the test -- you will need to devote some time to preparing for the test.

Here is what taking and passing the test will do for you:

  • It is a way to differentiate yourself when looking for a new job.

  • Argentum has provided some additional benefits for those who achieve the CDAL credential.

  • The process of preparing for the test will make you a better leader.

  • You will set an example for up-and-coming leaders.

The question that still remains is this -- will it really help an executive director’s career? The jury is still out, but I know for sure it can’t hurt. More about this question below. 

The Industry and CDAL

First, I want to start by saying I think this is a great idea. There are 4 things I think the industry needs to do in order to have the CDAL really mean something:

  1. Preference must be given to holders of the CDAL designation when hiring new executive directors and promoting within an organization.

  1. All Executive Director and above job postings must clearly state that CDAL holders will receive preferential treatment in the hiring process.

  1. Not every employer will stand for the cost of the test. Since it is still a “nice to have” and not a “must have,” I would like to see the organization offer scholarships to those who will have to pay out of their own pocket until they reach some threshold number of CDAL holders -- maybe 2,000 or 2,500.  

    I could qualify to take the test, but I would be out nearly $1,000 and -- while it would be cool to take it and have the CDAL -- I won’t do it. However, I would be willing to take it for $400-$500.

  1. There needs to be a proactive effort to involve leaders from outside Argentum. Involving folks primarily affiliated with LeadingAge and ACHA would go a long way to make this a real thing.

In writing this article, I got curious about how readers see the CDAL. Would you take this very short survey?

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