Older woman sitting with aged care worker

Attracting more workers to aged care isn’t easy, but here’s where we can start

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On 6 May, Nous Group’s Ian Thompson facilitated a CEDA livestream discussion with Debby Blakey, the CEO of industry super fund HESTA, Kasy Chambers, the Executive Director of services provider Anglicare, and Sean Rooney, the CEO of Leading Age Services Australia. The topic of discussion was “Australia’s aged care workforce post-Royal Commission”. Here are collective insights from that discussion.

How we care for the ageing reflects who we are as a nation. The Royal Commission into Aged Care’s recommendations revealed glaring and longstanding gaps in how aged care is provided and supported in Australia and set the scene for long-term transformation.

Australia’s 360,000-strong aged care workforce is at the heart of the sector and must be a focus of the transformation. This workforce is critical to ensuring our older people receive the care and support Australians expect. Their work is challenging but rewarding. To best support older people, changes must be made to attract more workers to the sector, as well as to strengthen the workforce capability. Here are six ideas that emerged and can have a real impact.

Growing the aged care workforce

This workforce will need to increase to almost one million by 2050. Currently, 30 per cent of the aged care workforce are migrants, but it is worth considering the fairness of relying on poorer countries in our region to feed this pipeline. The alternative source is from other local sectors: the retail sector may be a particularly good option, especially as the number of shopfronts diminish.

Enhancing training

Our aged care workforce requires better training, particularly training that can be delivered on the job. Programs to support and provide opportunities for skills and capability-building are important, but so is doing things differently: research, innovation and new models of care play an important role.

Crafting more flexible career pathways

A more modern workforce journey is required. Rather than attracting a throughput of people who enter the sector, train and leave, we must make it possible for staff to dip in and out of aged care during their career, and to engage with progression opportunities as they arise. Our training and qualifications, as well as organisations’ workforce planning, should enable such a flexible workforce journey.

Attracting staff of the right quality

Central to aged care workers’ capability are not only their technical skill but their approach to their work and aptitude: empathy and desire to care are needed. Those who have this often feel undervalued where they should be enabled. Although the aged care sector lags in technology adoption, which could greatly improve day-to-day administration, ultimately care is human and relational: it cannot be replaced by digital solutions.

Getting the story right

Increasing remuneration – including through taxation and superannuation – is important for attracting more and high-quality aged care staff, but it is only one consideration. We also need to increase the opportunity for skills development and on-the-job variety.

To attract those with the right temperament and attitude, it’s important to put forward an accurate narrative of working in aged care. This includes emphasising the care-centred and rewarding aspects and shining the spotlight on excellent, professional organisations. For example, in a pilot program with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, young people were found to have misunderstood aged care, with many convinced to consider it as a career once they received a more correct story. Similarly, a greater awareness among Australians more broadly of the nature and importance of the industry would go well toward setting in motion remuneration increases.

During 2020, COVID-19 resulted in aged care employees gaining more appreciation and feeling more valued, and therefore becoming stronger advocates for working in aged care – but this must continue and strengthen. The workforce is currently significantly polarised, with many workers dissatisfied with their work arrangements or employers. Employers that take a long-term view and consider workforce strategies to increase positivity and engagement will be the most attractive.

Getting the systems right

Aged care staff must operate in an environment where they are supported and enabled to deliver good-quality care – where they aspire to excellence, not just compliance. As well as improved remuneration and training, there should be a commitment around rights-based aged care and a clear line-of-sight toward quality indicators and transparency measures.

Although more than 600 of the 850 approved residential aged care providers are single-site operators, they are limited by resources. If we can get the resourcing right, we can overcome barriers to greater scaling of better care models.

We need to find the right model for care

Optimising our aged care system is a global, not just Australian, challenge: the United Nations has declared the 2020s the “decade of healthy ageing”. Australia must ascertain the best model for our context. At the core is ensuring we value older age as an important part of life, such that people are valued beyond their economic contribution.

Get in touch to discuss how Nous can support you to meet your aged care workforce challenges.

Connect with Ian Thompson on LinkedIn.