Reinforcing the importance of this issue, in early 2021 Australia’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety called for fundamental and systemic aged care reform. In response, the 2021-22 Budget pledged a record $17.7 billion to help overhaul the sector.
“In addressing aged care reform it’s important to note the complexity of delivering support services for an ageing population, and the fact that there is no quick fix or easy solution,” reflects Geoff Curran, Practice Leader for Gerard Daniels in Sydney. “However, what we do have in Australia is a commitment to raising the standard of care, and consensus that considerable work must be done to achieve this.”
Here we examine the aged care workforce challenges in Australia and consider some of the ways these issues can be addressed.
Staffing aged care facilities is a major challenge for all operators in the sector. According to Geoff this is an issue that will continue to grow alongside rising demand for these services. “The lack of skilled and experienced care providers to meet the needs of our ageing population is a perennial problem in aged care, and a consistent theme across aged care providers in Australia,” he says.
The following summary outlines some of the issues currently affecting the supply of talent to aged care:
- Growing demand for aged care in an ageing population: The number of Australian’s aged 85 years and over is projected to increase from around 500,000 in 2018 to 1.5 million in 2058. The aged care sector workforce will need to grow to more than 1 million people to meet this demand.
- COVID-19’s travel and immigration bans have restricted the flow of migrant workers to this sector.
- A lack of permanent and full time roles means many care providers need to work multiple jobs.
- There is also a need and desire to improve staff to resident ratios, for better quality of care.
“Workforce issues present one of the greatest ongoing challenges within aged care,” Geoff continues. “Without swift and significant change these issues will continue to affect the quality of aged care and our ability to meet the demands of Australia’s ageing population.” Dedicated and specialised training is required prior to working in the sector to select people with the right temperament and skills.
An ageing aged care workforce
Alongside the growing demand from Australia’s ageing population, the ageing workforce within aged care is creating additional challenges for this sector.
- Aged care currently has the highest median employee age across all Australian employment sectors.
- And half of Australia’s current aged care workforce could reach retirement age within the next 15 years.
“As front line supervisors move closer to retirement age we risk losing vital skills and experience, which may further inhibit the provision of quality care,” says Geoff.
Many strategies could help to address these workforce and leadership issues in aged care.
“Better funding won’t fix everything, but it is a good start, because if you want quality care you need to pay people appropriately,” says Geoff. “Better pay will also help to attract people into aged care from other allied care sectors, although to an extent this transfers the issue elsewhere.”
“Making training more accessible and promoting aged care careers at tertiary level are other important workforce strategies,” Geoff explains. “More can certainly be done to educate people on the rewarding career opportunities available within aged care. Hopefully there will be more focus on these areas moving forward.”
To this effect, the recent Federal Budget has allocated $652.1 million to help grow Australia’s skilled aged care workforce. This includes:
- 33,800 subsidised Vocational Education and Training places;
- $135.6M to provide eligible Registered Nurses with financial support, nursing scholarships and places in the Aged Care Transition to Practice Program; and
- $9.8M to extend the national recruitment campaign to increase the skilled aged care workforce.
The leadership challenge
Continuing to develop strong leaders and leadership teams is a critical part of addressing aged care workforce issues long term. Geoff believes recruiting leadership talent from outside the sector could also bring new skills, perspective and experience into aged care.
“I spoke recently with an experienced industry leader who was considering branching out from his current sector in search of a role with greater social purpose,” Geoff recalls. “This conversation reminded me of the value and impact that strong leadership talent can have.” Gerard Daniels has been involved in a number of very successful CEO appointments by bringing people outside of the sector, where they have significant experience in a service culture.
“While this type of candidate is in the minority, it was a reminder that there is an appetite for some leaders, particularly later in their career, to prioritise leadership impact over financial gain,” Geoff continues. “I believe this type of appointment could make a significant impact on aged care.”
Regardless of the strategies employed, the adequacy of funding or how it is allocated, addressing workforce issues in aged care remains a priority. “All of these issues boil down to meeting the needs and expectations of aged care residents and their families, supporting the aged care sector and its workforce, and achieving standards that the wider community deserves,” Geoff concludes.
To discuss new leadership opportunities or for advice on attracting new leadership talent to your organisation, reach out to Gerard Daniels today.