Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Associate and Aged Care Accredited Professional Larisa Kapur explores whether calls for better qualifications and the introduction of apprenticeships in the aged care sector will be enough to equip the workforce for the demands of an ageing population.
The Federal government has published a 264-page employment white paper that sheds light on several aspects of the Australian job market, with a significant emphasis on the care and support economy.
The focus couldn’t come at a better time, given the pressing challenges that the aged care sector and its professionals face today – the biggest being short staffing.
With life expectancies projected to increase and more people likely to need aged care, there will be even greater demands on the sector’s workers. Addressing today’s staffing shortage is crucial to ensuring our elderly receive the care and support they need.
The white paper found that more effective home care services and better technology integration should play a part in alleviating the crisis and improving care quality.
It also focused on the current education system – proposing a renewed focus on higher education, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.
Strategies for workforce development
The care and support economy covers many industries, including early childhood education and care, residential aged care, and disability services.
According to the employment white paper, life expectancies at birth in 2022-23 were 81.3 years for men and 85.2 years for women. By 2062-63, these projections are set to increase to 87 years for men and 89.5 years for women.
The government has recognised that as the demand for aged care services continues to rise, the focus needs to shift to creating more accessible and attractive training opportunities for professionals in the sector.
Chief among the solutions raised in the report is the creation of “higher and degree-level apprenticeships,” which would combine on-the-job training with academic study, leading to degree-level qualifications.
They would be delivered by registered vocational education and training (VET) providers and allow students to develop more specialised skills to meet industry needs in priority areas.
In the aged care sector, workers must be qualified. Registered nurses, enrolled nurses, and care workers must have degrees, diplomas, or Certificate III or IV qualifications to work in the field.
The paper discusses how important it is for the education piece leading to these qualifications to match the skills the industry needs. The courses also need to appeal to the steady stream of skilled workers that the sector seeks to attract.
As the sector relies on skilled migrants, there’s also a call to streamline the recognition process for overseas qualifications, which should help to address workforce shortages.
The report, published on 25 September 2023, also included some other observations that aged care workers may find interesting.
It recorded that in 2021-22:
- The Commonwealth Home Support Program had around 840,000 users and 76,000 staff,
- Home Care packages had over 216,000 users and 80,000 staff, and
- Residential aged care supported the care of around 245,000 residents with the help of over 277,000 total staff.
The paper raised the point that often, these different models compete for individuals who have the same skills.
The government espoused the positives of home care services over residential aged care, saying that home care allowed individuals to live independently for longer, with lower staff numbers and more patient benefits.
The employment paper also includes a focus on technology, saying it can help improve the quality of care by reducing the time staff spend on administrative tasks, freeing them up to spend more time with their patients.
It also said that aged care, disability support and veterans’ care workers are nearly twice as likely as workers in other sectors to hold multiple jobs.
This was an area for concern, with job insecurity being connected to poor physical and mental health and a workers’ experience at work, which can negatively affect job retention in the sector.
The paper said that having staff with multiple jobs can also affect the care provided, with challenges stemming from the need for adequate shift coverage and the logistical complexities of managing a workforce comprising both part-time and casual staff across multiple care facilities.
One solution that the government hopes will go some way to ensuring skilled workers stay in the aged care sector is more competitive wages.
The government announced this year it would be allocating $11.3 billion to fund a 15 per cent increase in the wages for many aged care workers. The wage increase kicked in from 30 June 2023, and applies to personal care workers, lifestyle activities officers, nurses and home care workers.
It is the largest wage increase the sector has ever experienced. However, it doesn’t apply to the whole workforce, and several quarters of the sector have called for more to be done.
Putting the focus on mental health and employee rights
For a sector still reeling from the toll of COVID-19 and the excessive hours and additional duties that came with it, workers’ rights cannot be forgotten in the rush to expand staff headcount or make much-needed space for more residents.
Employers must ensure that their workplace is well-equipped for the increased demand for services and that they are meeting their legal obligations towards their workers.
Robust support for employee mental health will be needed to address staff fatigue and ensure quality care amid the increased pressures of the job.
Caring for the elderly is demanding, both physically and emotionally, and we believe the mental health and well-being of aged care professionals should be high on the list of a provider’s priorities. Workers and employees alike may be surprised that mental health conditions and burnout may amount to an ‘injury’ to claim workers’ compensation.
Burnout can harm both the individual and the quality of care provided. And so, encouraging self-care and providing support will be vital.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – accredited aged care professionals
Attwood Marshall Lawyers are passionate advocates for much-needed change in the aged care sector to better protect the elderly and professionals who work tirelessly looking after the aging community.
If you’re an aged care worker seeking assistance with employee rights related to burnout, mental health concerns, or workplace issues, we’re here to provide expert guidance and support. With our extensive industry knowledge, we can offer tailored legal solutions to ensure you receive the rights and protections you deserve.
Our Commercial Litigation department are always available to discuss your unique circumstances and can be contacted by calling our Dispute Resolution Department Manager Amanda Heather on direct line 07 5506 8245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For anyone making the transition to aged care that want to understand the steps to take and what considerations they should be aware of, we have a dedicated team of aged care professionals who can assist. For all transitioning to aged care enquiries, please contact Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email email@example.com or free call 1800 621 071 at any time.