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Aged care workforce an international challenge: US expert

Australian aged care providers are not alone in their difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, with aged services around the world experiencing workforce woes, which signalled the need for global strategies, a leading international authority on aged care has said.

Dr Robyn Stone. Photo credit: Richard O'Leary

Dr Robyn Stone. Photo: Richard O’Leary

Dr Robyn Stone, executive director of the LeadingAge Centre for Applied Research, said more action was needed on strategies to attract and retain staff, increase productivity through technology, and better support the informal care sector.

“We are a very labour-intensive sector and our workforce – our human capital – is what will make or break us, and make or break many countries over the next 25 to 30 years,” she told the ACSA-IAHSA Joint International Conference in Perth on Tuesday.

A declining informal care sector would place increasing pressure on the aged care industry to meet the demands of global ageing and innovative countries were looking to expand their recruitment pool by targeting men, young people, indigenous workers, the unemployed and retirees, Dr Stone said.

“We need to have an environment that is worker-friendly for young people, if we don’t we’ll loose them,” she said.

Improving working conditions should include better access to flexible benefits, professional development, and peer mentoring, as well as addressing the underemployment of home care workers, said Dr Stone.

Negative aged care stereotypes

Compounding the workforce challenge, she said, was the low value placed on the aged care sector by the community.

“Aged care work is undervalued work throughout the entire developed world, which means that it is undervalued by society, by providers and by consumers. People want cheap labour but they want quality at same time. They are not willing to pay for the kinds of care we expect to have.”

To improve productivity, Dr Stone said the controversial proposition of the delegation of tasks and scope of practice issues needed to be on the table. “This is going to rub up against every single guild in every single country because no doctor, no nurse, no social worker wants to give up their turf, but the truth is, we can be a lot more productive and efficient if we look at delegation.”

Dr Stone also called for a discussion on international standards regarding carer competencies and for international bodies such as the World Health Organisation to extend its work on the migration of health workers to include aged care. The sharing of best practice and the availability of cross-country training programmes should also be a priority as part of globalisation and labour force movement.

“In the end it’s really the people, stupid. We need to be paying as much attention globally to human capital investment as we do to how we finance our systems and how we think about system delivery reform.”

The cost savings and opportunities from investing in the labour force were often overlooked, she said.

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3 Responses to Aged care workforce an international challenge: US expert

  1. Drew Dwyer September 4, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

    Well placed Dr Stone. There are answers, but no one wants to listen and learn

  2. Maireid September 5, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    “Aged care work is undervalued work throughout the entire developed world, which means that it is undervalued by society, by providers and by consumers. People want cheap labour but they want quality at same time. They are not willing to pay for the kinds of care we expect to have.” This statement is TRUE. In age care and with a Diploma to levels of salary are disgraceful – approx $25 per hour and for Cert IV approx $22 per hour. My question:- Is that because age care workers are predominantly female? I also question the proposal of a large specialized aged care organisation to bring in 547 visa people when there is a desperate need for jobs for people already here in this country? Is it greed on behalf of the age care operators?

  3. Caroline September 9, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Fantastic… exactly the drum I beat constantly about looking at the resources within in order to build a care workforce. Yes, we need strategies to engage the with diversity of potential workers and we need to listen to a diversity of players in the sector.

    Aged care work and by that I mean the diversity of roles in non-clinical / nursing areas remains undervalued. I like to challenge people by stating “I’m a community care worker” which brings the most irritating comments “oh that’s so good” or silence. No, we need fair wages for skills and qualifications. I’d also argue that employers are also complicit in the game of the devaluation of workers’ skills and ongoing learning by not supporting learners . We need to build a culture of support for learning and valuing the diversity of players in supporting people to remain at home. We also need fair wages. Education is expensive and the organisation and its target population as well as Government benefits from some workers’ commitment to learning.

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