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, 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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