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Employer Spotlight: College Nannies, Sitters + Tutors

Older workers add commitment and maturity to this franchise’s roster of caregivers

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While the name College Nannies, Sitters + Tutors might not seem like an obvious place to find older workers, it turns out that some of the most dedicated caregivers the company has to offer are age 50 and older, according to one owner of several College Nannies franchises.

“There’s a level of maturity they bring. There’s a level of patience that older adults have,” says Susan Cornish, who owns several College Nannies franchises that have signed AARP’s Employer Pledge, a commitment to promote equal opportunity for all employees, regardless of age. 

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Cornish, who currently employs roughly 130 workers total, has been a College Nannies franchise owner for 12 years. The College Nannies + Sitters business was started 20 years ago by Joe Keeley. One summer when he was a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, Keeley worked as a “manny” for a family with two boys. He enjoyed the experience so much that he switched to a business major and promptly launched the College Nannies franchise nationwide.

Cornish now owns franchises in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia. Her businesses emphasize matching the right caregiver with the right family.

“If you think about us, we’re a staffing firm, no different than an Adecco or any other staffing firm,” Cornish says.

Cornish recently spoke with AARP about College Nannies and the Employer Pledge Program. The following excerpts from that conversation have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Some people might not think about older workers when they hear your company’s name. Why are older adults essential to your business, and how do you recruit and retain them?

Cornish: College Nannies started out [recruiting] in college. We were hiring almost exclusively college-aged students. But in 18 years of business, you learn and you grow. And as we’ve grown, I for one as a multiunit franchise owner, I have found that we wanted a very diverse employee base.

Our average employee tenure across the franchise system is 210 days. So, if you think about a college student, that’s two semesters. But when I broke it down by age groups, for our 50-plus age group — not including my administrative staff, strictly field employees — our average tenure is 6.6 years.

I dug into this information and said, “What do we do to really find folks who looking for an extended family, looking to work when they want to work, that type of thing.” I took about 15 of our older adult caregivers and threw them on Zoom calls, three at a time, and did hour-long focus groups with them.

What did you learn from these discussions with these employees?

Cornish: One lady explained she had been in a retraining program because she had been downsized. She was taking accounting classes [at a college], and she didn’t feel great about the classes. It didn’t feel passionate. But she saw a College Nannies flyer on the campus and called to ask, “Do you hire nontraditional college students?” Our message of being a flexible employer spoke to her. She loved children and had worked in a nursery at church and whatnot. We explained to her our mission and our vision and what we had available to her.

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Believe it or not, 10 years later, she’s still with us.

What other reasons might older adults consider working for College Nannies?

Cornish: There could be multiple reasons. Our employees get to work when they want to work and choose shifts that are appealing to them. They want that flexibility to work a few days a week. We’ve got some caregivers who are older adults who don’t want to interfere with their Social Security [benefits], so they want to be cognizant of the number of hours they work and maybe pick up some additional [employer] benefits, such as dental care or something that they’re not currently getting.

We’ve had caregivers who have come to us and said, you know, what a great opportunity this is to help raise the next generation, and, I mean, if you think about it, instead of going to an office environment or a retail environment, they’re going to get high-energy children and opportunities to play outside and work on crafts and learn numbers, and other just fun stuff. It’s a great job for all ages.

How do families respond when they hire an older caregiver through College Nannies?

Cornish: There's a trust level when most families see an older adult come through the door. That family may have a handful of little ones at the house. We’ve had so many families say, “Oh my gosh, when she walked through the door, I just felt more relaxed and more at ease.”

The other things that older adults bring to the environment is just a sheer love for life. They can be that additional grandparent, whether it’s a grandma or grandpa, for the day for the kiddos. It is just a special experience for everyone.

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