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More concern over the future of Australia’s aged care workforce

A two-year research project by major national industry super fund HESTA has offered an in-depth, insightful and potentially concerning snapshot into the aged care workforce and its future.

More than 23 percent of aged care workers surveyed intended on leaving the sector in one to five years (Source: Shutterstock)
More than 23 percent of aged care workers surveyed intended on leaving the sector in one to five years (Source: Shutterstock)

The report, Transforming Aged Care - reimagining the aged care workforce of tomorrow, drew on discussions with industry peak bodies, unions, service providers and employees from across the country, with independent researchers surveying more than 2,000 health and community services (HACS) employees, including more than 500 from aged care.

HESTA Chief Executive Officer Debby Blakey says the report reveals a sector facing significant challenges in attracting and retaining workers to the rapidly changing industry, noting that the research found more than 23 percent of aged care workers surveyed intended on leaving the sector in one to five years.

She says these figures also accompany other figures which show that only 4,000 workers are expected to enter the sector from other areas of HACS, meaning aged care faces a potential net outflow of 80,000 employees in the next five years.

“As the major national industry super fund for HACS, we want to provide insights from our data and research capabilities that can help facilitate practical solutions to key challenges facing the sector,” Ms Blakey says.

“Our research identifies a worrying potential outflow of workers from aged care in the next five years, right as we need to be attracting significantly more people to work in the sector.”

The Productivity Commission forecasts that Australia may need almost one million aged care workers by 2050 if it is to meet the anticipated demand from ageing baby boomers, something that Ms Blakey says is a sector-wide concern.

“We share the belief of many in the sector that meeting the expected increase in demand for aged care will require a focus on the people who deliver these critical services,” she says.

“Ensuring we have the skilled workforce necessary to care for Australia’s elders is an issue that will affect millions of Australians, but it will also directly impact our members working to deliver services across both aged care and the broader HACS sector.”

Ms Blakey says the research not only shone a spotlight on the job intentions of the sector, but also revealed the strong personal and professional commitment of those working in aged care, as well as highlighting the many positive solution-led suggestions made by employers and employees.

She says employers identified a “raft” of proactive solutions to strengthen the nation’s aged care sector, including:

  • Recruiting new talent from allied health industries such as hospitality and retail

  • Creating stronger employment brands

  • Flexible rosters and greater certainty of hours for employees

  • ‘Staying on’ programs supporting retention of experienced, older employees

  • Attracting millennials to work in aged care by promoting technological innovation in robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as opportunities to assist increasingly tech-savvy baby boomer clients

“Better working conditions and greater employee recognition are likely to make a big difference to job satisfaction and employee engagement,” Ms Blakey says.

“Aged care providers are adapting their business models and switching to more service-oriented approaches to attract and retain clients...This is clearly an industry on the cusp of significant reform which will shape, for years to come, the provision of care to millions of Australians.”

The release of the HESTA research findings come as Federal Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt delivers on a commitment to address the challenges remote aged care providers face as they deliver safe, high-quality care for ageing Australians, with a special meeting to examine remote aged care services.

Minister Wyatt says the meeting, with representatives from remote and very remote aged care providers, is a direct result of national consultations by the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, which was established in November 2017, to develop the nation’s first workforce strategy, focused on supporting safe, quality aged care.

The Minister adds that ensuring Australian aged care has a strong supply and adequate provision of appropriately trained, skilled and resourced staff is a “top priority” across the nation and the sector, with workforce requirements predicted to increase from around 366,000 to almost one million by 2050, as per HESTA’s report.

“We need a population health approach, one that thinks outside the square and shapes what we need for the future years, to build on the existing workforce,” Minister Wyatt says.

"Staff retention is a key focus of the taskforce, along with attracting more people into careers in aged care, with many exciting opportunities developing now and in coming years – from advanced care, to catering, robotics, horticulture and health management.

“We want people to realise the growing diversity of aged care careers and how rewarding they can be.”

Minister Wyatt says that no matter where older Australians live, it’s important they can remain as close as possible to their friends, families and the communities they have built their lives around, and that to help achieve this goal, “we must employ and retain highly-qualified aged care workers”.

“Ensuring the expansion and professionalism of the aged care workforce is fundamental to the Turnbull Government’s aged care reform agenda and complements our recent announcement of a new and independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission,” he says.

The Taskforce is due to produce the aged care workforce strategy by the end of June, 2018.

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