The need for aged care providers to address workforce recruitment, retention and productivity as their number one priority has been highlighted in one of two new research papers.
Funding was the other big issue that affected the future of Australia’s aged care system, according to the briefs developed by the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) released on Thursday.
The papers, which brought together findings from the centre’s researchers and other studies and reports to offer a comprehensive view of the aged care sector, outlined the challenges, detailed current responses and put the spotlight on research that aimed to address those challenges.
The first paper analysed the sector from the top down and described aged care policy, demand and funding, while the second examined the sector from the bottom up and looked at care recipients, providers, workforce, access and quality.
On workforce, the researchers noted that staffing was the largest cost item for aged care providers (64 per cent) and predicted the workforce would need to increase from the current 350,000 to between 830,000 and 1.3 million by 2050 to meet the future demand for services.
The take home message for providers on workforce was to do with recruitment, retention and productivity said Rafal Chomik, a senior research fellow at CEPAR and author of the reports.
“What happens with the workforce is essentially what happens with aged care because the sector is very highly labour intensive compared to most other industries and the highest levels of expenditure are on wages,” Mr Chomik said.
It would be important for the sector to respond to the future challenge of recruiting a large number of people at a time of great demand for those workers, he said.
While aged care workers were predominantly older, well-educated women — 86 per cent of community and 88 per cent of residential direct care workers had post-school qualifications compared to 64 per cent of all Australian employees — more than half did not have a continuous development plan in place, according to the paper.
Mr Chomik said this was an example of a retention issue and a major problem for the aged sector.
Overall, the paper reported the high satisfaction among aged care workers with their work but not their pay. It noted the wages gap had been left unaddressed following the scrapping of the $1.2 billion workforce supplement.
It also highlighted that wages tended to be lower in community care than residential care and suggested it could add to workforce woes.
While the disparity could in part be due to higher levels of part-time work in this sector, Mr Chomik said lower wages could also indicate that providers might find it more difficult to attract staff to the home care sector in the future, despite the move to greater home care provision.
Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan, who launched the briefs on Wednesday night, said older Australians could fill some of the workforce needs.
“While the funding and staffing challenges are huge, dramatic employment growth in many kinds of jobs in the aged care sector present new opportunities for mature, experienced people who are often blocked by age discrimination in other sectors. As well, businesses should be alert to opportunities in product and services innovation in this rapidly growing area,” Ms Ryan said.
In terms of innovation, the sector could be making progress. Reporting on unpublished ABS data taken from a recent business survey, the paper said: “a greater proportion of residential aged care businesses undertakes some innovative activity (79 per cent) relating to services, organisational, or operational processes, than the Australian average (47 per cent) or the rest of the healthcare and social services industry (50 per cent).”
Mr Chomik said while he was unable to discover the specific activities involved, aged care being higher than the average was a positive sign. “It suggests that providers are doing a lot of things and thinking about a lot of things in terms of where their business is going. Generally I would say that is a positive thing for innovation and productivity because you are trying out different things and seeing what works.”
The papers are available on CEPAR’s website.
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