Spokane Journal of Business

Touchmark cultivates young labor pool with new executive training program

Two of the first five selected associates are from Spokane

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-—Kevin Blocker
Touchmark on South Hill’s Wendy Gregory is one of five young professionals selected for the company’s new executive associate program.

The retirement community Touchmark on South Hill has an employee roll of nearly 300 people, but there is one position unlike any other.

Late last year, the upscale community at 2929 S. Waterford created and filled a position titled executive associate. The position is the idea of Touchmark CEO Marcus Breuer, who wants to see the company develop young talent for future leadership positions.

“To say the retirement industry is a growing industry really is an understatement,” says Jeff Bair, Touchmark’s Spokane-based regional vice president. “We’re going to see growth at an exponential rate.”

Beaverton, Ore.-based Touchmark LLC operates 14 retirement communities in 10 U.S. states and one Canadian province. More than 2,800 people live in Touchmark communities, which employ more than 2,000 workers. In Washington, Touchmark operates the South Hill facility and another in Vancouver. 

“We’re seeing a tightening labor pool; we believe it’s a must that we develop our young talent for the future,” he says.

Near the end of last year and the beginning of 2019, the company hired its first five executive associates to start a three-year program in which they are working in months-long rotations in every department within their assigned Touchmark community.

Two of the five associates are Spokane natives. Wendy Gregory was hired at Touchmark South Hill, and Sara Hair was hired at Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village, the company’s retirement community in Meridian, Idaho.

“When it was presented, I was taken aback,” says Gregory, “This is the first type of program I’ve ever heard of like this in the retirement industry.”

A University of Montana alumna, Gregory completed her bachelor’s degree in business management last year. 

After graduating from Gonzaga Preparatory High School in 2014, upon completing her first semester at Montana, Gregory asked herself, “‘What do you want to spend the rest of your life doing?’”

She questioned her initial decision to be a math teacher. Shortly thereafter, she reflected on how much she enjoyed working for a Spokane Valley retirement home as part of a community service project while in high school.

“That experience really planted the seed in me,” Gregory says. “It didn’t take long to realize that I wanted to work in the retirement field.”

Gregory says she began cold calling every retirement home in and around Missoula, asking to speak to their respective directors.

“With those who were willing to talk to me, I basically interviewed them and asked, ‘How did you get to your position?’ And, ‘What do I need to do to one day get there?’” she says.

Acting on the advice of one director, Gregory found a job working as a caregiver at a retirement home in Missoula.

“It was a rewarding and humbling experience,” she says. “I knew immediately that I wanted to be in this industry.

Gregory adds, “In spending time with them, you hear these incredible stories from people who had these amazing careers; men and women raising families and bouncing through life.”

She worked at the retirement community in Missoula for the last 1 1/2 years of college. Before returning to Spokane for the summer between her junior and senior years, she reached out to area retirement homes and inquired of internship possibilities.

Gregory says she was unsuccessful in her search until she was referred to Touchmark by a family connection.

“They invited me here, introduced me to residents; I wanted to go to work right away,” she says.

And she did, as a home care aide.

Says Bair of Gregory, “She’s an authentic person. She’s going to have a great career.”

Gregory returned to Missoula for her senior year and completed her degree. 

After graduating, Touchmark offered her a job as a front desk supervisor to start.

After three months in that capacity, she transitioned to the position of executive associate. During the three-year program, executive associates work in Touchmark’s health and fitness, life enrichment, resident relations, building services, business office, housekeeping, information technology, health services, sales, and dining services departments, Bair says.

“This isn’t a passive training where they’re just observing,” Bair says. “We believe we’ve developed a very comprehensive program that’s designed to place the associates in key leadership positions at the end of three years.”

Kevin Blocker
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