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Qualifications and experience

As Australia's aged population grows, the aged care workforce needs to increase to match the demand for quality aged care services. The industry has lots of opportunities and possibilities available for people interested in entering the sector that can be very rewarding.

Key points:

  • Certain aged care positions may not require degrees or qualifications beyond a police check

  • Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses and university are the two main places to get qualifications for the aged care industry

  • Some positions are great gateways into reaching your aged care job goals

Nurse with an older resident at a nursing home.
The sector requires constant improvement with aged care staff needing to undertake regular training every few months. [Source: iStock]

Working in aged care, a sector that resides next to the healthcare industry but is not considered 'primary care', still requires a level of expertise to work within, along with people skills, empathy and a willingness to care for and connect with older people.

There are a lot of different jobs in the aged care sector and each requires their own set of skills and training. This can range from an online course or a TAFE course to a three-year university degree.

And the sector requires constant improvement with aged care staff needing to undertake regular training every few months.

So what are some of the jobs you could do in aged care and what is involved with education and training?

Aged care worker or residential support worker

Aged care workers are the frontline staff working day and night to provide older residents and Australians in their home with quality care.

To be hired as an aged care worker, you can undertake online courses or in-person Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses, which are supplied at TAFE or by registered training organisations.

There is the Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing, Home and Community), or similar with a disability focus, which provides ground-level knowledge and practical experience you would need to work in aged care.

If you complete either of the above training, you are eligible to undertake a Certificate IV in Aged Care or Certificate IV in Disability, which provides management skills, helps you support other employees and trains you in providing an effective aged care environment.

These three certificates are available in an online course or you can attend classes at a TAFE campus.

A traineeship is another way of receiving education firsthand in an aged care setting. This will mean that you 'train on the job' while still doing some study as well. After a 12 month period, you will complete a Certificate III in Individual Support.

There are a number of short courses that are available to give entry-level knowledge into age care. This includes a Statement of Attainment in Aged Care, Statement of Attainment in Introduction to Aged Care, Statement of Attainment in Introduction to Home and Community Care, or TAFE Statement in Mental health awareness for workers in residential aged care.

Community support worker/ lifestyle worker

A community support worker can get a range of different low or high-level qualifications through many different avenues to be able to provide care to older Australians through communiser programs for rehabilitation and personal development.

Available at TAFE or a VET approved training organisation, to become a community support worker you can undertake a Diploma of Community Services, which provides education and training around support-based programs for those in need, trains students to understand and promote diversity in the workplace, and monitor the stress and wellbeing of people.

This Diploma also includes 400 hours of supervised placement.

There is also a Certificate III in Community Services, which covers skills around meeting client needs, communication, working in diverse work environments and dealing with personal stressors; Diploma of Community Services (Case Management), that teaches counselling, advocating, or case management; or Certificate IV in Ageing Support, that provides more specialised education for assisting older people.

Higher education you can pursue includes a bachelor degree from a university. For example, a Bachelor of Human Services, Bachelor of Community and Human Services or Bachelor of Social Science (Ageing and Disability).

These degrees can prepare you for supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of residents or older Australians and their families. 

You are also able to get experience in this area of aged care through a vocational placement in aged care.

For leisure and lifestyle workers, there are also different levels of education available. However, you don't necessarily need a qualification to get a job in a leisure and lifestyle position in aged care.

Some facilities are willing to take on friendly candidates who have a passion for helping older people and have dementia management knowledge. In most instances, an aged care facility will actively provide you with training and further education opportunities.

At TAFE or other training institutions, there is a Diploma of Leisure and Health, Diploma in Diversional Therapy or Certificate of IV in Leisure and Health.

In the Diploma, you will receive knowledge around managing performance of an individual, and how to develop and implement leisure programs in aged care, including for people with complex needs.

The diploma can also lead to careers as a diversional therapist/assistant or community leisure officer.

At university, there are a few degrees that can provide education that will translate well in an aged care service setting for leisure and lifestyle, including a Bachelor of Health Science (Therapeutic Recreation).

Whereas, the Certificate provides further training to be implemented in a residential setting or day centre.

Assistant in nursing (AIN)/ enrolled nurse (EN)

An assistant in nursing (AIN), also known as a nursing support worker, needs to undertake a Certificate III Health Services Assistance, which specifically specialises you for a career as an AIN.

This is the minimum requirement to receive a position as an AIN in aged care.

A bachelor degree is not necessarily required for an AIN, however, if you are enrolled in a Nursing undergraduate program at a university, you are able to take AIN positions in aged care while you are studying.

In many cases, an AIN position is the beginning of many on the way to reaching a nurses career.

An enrolled nurse (EN) needs to undertake a 2-year nursing diploma, Diploma of Nursing, which provides a comprehensive understanding of clinical and basic nursing care. EN's are also nationally registered and the diploma is the minimum requirement for becoming an EN.

To apply for a Diploma of Nursing, you need to complete a Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing) and the Certificate IV in Preparation for Health and Nursing Studies.

An EN has a high level of competency in practical and clinical care that can be used in a nursing home setting.

Additionally, you need to have finished high school with a pass in Year 12 English and Maths.

Registered nurse (RN)

A registered nurse (RN) has the most comprehensive clinical care experience within an aged care facility besides a visiting doctor.

There is a bigger journey involved with becoming a RN.

Starting from high school, you will need to graduate with an ATAR between 60-90. However, this depends on the course, the university you apply for, and also changes from year to year depending on how many people apply for the course. Undertaking a double degree in nursing usually means you should aim for an ATAR in the 80s-90s.

The best subjects to take in high school, to help in your university degree, are Year 12 Human Biology or other science subjects, Maths and English. These subjects can prepare you for any nursing studies, however, if you are looking at a specialised nursing degree, you need to look into what that would require.

Additionally, the university you apply for may have prerequisite requirements for high school subjects to be able to apply.

Some of the degrees you can apply for to enter the nursing field are a Bachelor of Nursing, Bachelor of Science (majoring in Nursing) or a Bachelor of Nursing (Advanced Studies).

If you want to do double degrees, you can also do a Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology), Bachelor of Rural Health Practice, Bachelor of Clinical Practice (Paramedic), or Bachelor of Public Health. They may be other personal bachelors you can also undertake next to your nursing degree.

To be able to practice as an RN, you must apply to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA). This has to be renewed every year.

There are further post-graduate degrees and honour degrees you can undertake that either specialise you further in aged care, or there is a Masters of Nursing (Nurse Practitioner Studies), which gives you further abilities that don't require a direction from a doctor around specific clinical care.

Some universities provide a Master of Advanced Nursing Practice (Nurse Practitioner), which is only available to a graduate of the Master of Nurse Practitioner.

Other qualifications or experience

Similar to other sectors that work with vulnerable people, like childcare or disability care, all aged care staff need to have a police check.

As you will be working in care capacity, you will need a valid First Aid certificate that needs to be updated every three years.

Additionally, in most aged care positions, you may be required to have a current driver's licence.

Some facilities or services may ask for a medical assessment to be undertaken to prove you are fit and healthy to undertake the job you are applying for.

While not mandated, education and training in dementia can be incredibly beneficial in aged care services. There are free, quick online courses and resources available from the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre in Tasmania.

Other helpful qualifications can include knowledge in safe work practices and food safe handling practices.

All aged care workers, no matter the level or the amount of time you spend in an aged care facility, need to have evidence they have received a flu vaccination.

Depending on the organisation, providers may require a number of years of experience under your belt to be accepted for a job. However, this shouldn't dissuade you from applying for a position. In some cases, if you have the qualification but not a lot of experience, a positive personality, mindset or work ethic can be a push for a provider or service to consider hiring you and providing the training for skills they require.

Keep in mind, aged care is a sector where you need to constantly and actively engage in further education to either upskill or learn new things to implement in the sector. 

What training and qualification do you require to reach your career goal? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Types of jobs in aged care
Duties and responsibilities

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