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Aged care workforce shortage projected over next decade

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has released a report expressing that there is a dire shortage of aged care workers in the country which needs to be immediately rectified otherwise the sector's workforce will continue to struggle.

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The report estimates that the current trajectory of the Government's workforce plan will only increase the workforce to just under 500,000 by 2050. [Source: Shutterstock]

Released today, the report, Duty of Care: Meeting the Aged Care Workforce Challenge, found that the sector will have a shortage of at least 110,000 direct aged care workers in a decade. 

If action is not taken, CEDA believes that the shortage of staff in aged care will expand to more than 400,000 workers by 2050. Direct care workers needed in the sector include personal care assistants, nurses and allied health staff.

Chief Economist at CEDA, Jarrod Ball, says that at the moment, Australia is failing to prepare for this challenge even though the Government has been aware of workforce issues due to multiple inquiries, like the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and the already predicted age demographic changes.

"We will need at least 17,000 more direct aged-care workers each year in the next decade just to meet basic standards of care," explains Mr Ball.  

"These projections are based on conservative assumptions, and the situation may prove to be even more dire than this.

"This requires a massive commitment from the Federal Government, the kind we haven’t seen to date.

"We have not come anywhere near the growth in workers we need to meet demand. The Federal Government must commit to increasing funding for the sector to meet the workforce challenge."

At the moment, the Government has targets set in their 'Five year, Five Pillar' aged care plan to deal with workforce issues, but does not include further wage funding to make the sector more enticing to potential workers.

Currently, the Government is only aiming to increase the workforce in 2021 by up to 6,000 new personal care workers, and up to 7,000 new personal care workers in 2022. 

Approximately $652.1 million is being given to the workforce pillar of the five year plan to help grow a "skilled, professional and compassionate" aged care workforce.

The report estimates that the current trajectory of the Government's plan will only increase the workforce to just under 500,000 by 2050. 

To reach a three star quality aged care rating, the workforce would need to be 890,000 strong by 2050, or to reach a five star quality aged care rating, the workforce would need to increase to 1.08 million.

CEDA says that Australians deserve to age with dignity, but this right will remain in jeopardy if there is not enough appropriate workforce planning and urgent action taken.

Currently, it is projected that by 2031, the population of people aged over 65 will grow from 16 percent to 20 percent.

As the current aged care system is already understaffed, Mr Ball believes the workforce shortage is leading care to be below work standards, which was highlighted by the Royal Commission.

"Investing in workers to provide better care for more people must be a national priority - the shortage of workers lies at the heart of the problems in the sector," says Mr Ball. 

CEDA's report includes 18 recommendations, based on consultation with aged care providers, training organisations, unions and academics, that would help boost the workforce. These recommendations includes:

  • Better wages and working conditions for aged care workers, including better rostering and pay rises with increased responsibility roles

  • More staff receiving training, improvement training courses and outcomes, and investing in ongoing professional development

  • New dedicated migration paths to attract high-quality, motivated migrant workers to the sector

  • Technology investments that reduces administrative and physical burdens on staff

  • Increased knowledge sharing throughout the industry

CEDA wants these recommendations to be implemented, as they believe it will put the sector on the right path to growth and will equip their workforce to deal with increased aged care system demands. 

Author of the report, Western Australia based Senior Economist Cassandra Winzar, says addressing the current working conditions in aged care is the first step to boosting the attraction and retention in the workforce.

"The Federal Government has committed to raising the minimum daily staff time per resident to 200 minutes," says Ms Winzar.

"While this is an improvement, it will only get us to the bare minimum of acceptable care by global standards. That is how far behind we are compared with other countries.  

"Aged-care workers are already under considerable pressure. If change does not occur now, worker shortages will worsen even as the demand for care keeps growing."

Industry peak body, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), agrees that the Government could be doing more to foster better aged care workforce numbers.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LASA, Sean Rooney, says, "Aged care is likely to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the next five years, driven by policy changes and population.

"Right now, recruiting staff with the right temperament, training, experience and aptitude is becoming increasingly difficult – particularly as the unemployment rate falls, the NDIS expands and demand for nurses from the public health system grows.

"We acknowledge that the Federal Government has provided some support in the Budget for training and recruitment, but a more fundamental shift is needed. People join aged care because of their desire to serve and care for others. On the whole, they report high levels of engagement and work satisfaction. However, we do know that they can feel undervalued and that concern regarding remuneration is the most common reason that staff leave (after retirement).

"The other big issue is increased pressure to do more with less that is being felt across the aged care system, from CEOs down to frontline staff. This situation sees staff doing the best job they possibly can, in often difficult circumstances and with limited resources. Getting workforce right is fundamental to getting care right.  And getting funding right is fundamental to getting workforce and care right."

Mr Rooney adds that recruiting the staff the sector needs requires Government to agree to provide the funding to employ more staff, with more training and better pay.

This issue cannot be left until after the implementation of a new independent pricing methodology, says Mr Rooney, as it is something that needs to be fixed right now, which could include implementing the Royal Commission's recommendations on indexation and agreeing to fund the outcome of the current Fair Work Commission Work Value Cases.

To view the full report, visit the website of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

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