The increasing cultural diversity of the residential aged care workforce presents unique benefits and opportunities, such as enhanced care for CALD seniors, but it may also bring management challenges, according to an expert.
The proportion of the residential aged care workforce that is made up of migrant workers is now 36 per cent, which is higher than other industries but similar to the broader health and community services sector.
Sociologist and co-author of the National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey Debra King said that while the growth of migrant workers in aged care is often appreciated, managers require skills in managing a diverse workforce.
Dr King, who is the Dean of the School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University, said while a “reasonable proportion of migrants” in the aged care workforce was first noted in the 2003 census, the last census in 2012 identified the growth of migrants from Asia in particular.
Dr King and her co-authors surveyed 100 residential providers in 2007 to gain a deeper understanding of their workforces and the proportion of migrant workers.
With regards to feedback from providers, Ms King said a greater proportion talked about benefits of having migrant workers, rather than problems. “Benefits were around increased cultural diversity and connecting with communities. Some of the problems were around communication, particularly for older people who have dementia because often they revert back to their primary language. That’s an issue if you have a carer and English is their second language.”
She said there were also potential cultural differences which needed to be negotiated. “If you are from India there is hardly any residential aged care facilities, so there’s no cultural context within which to place nursing homes. They may not understand how you deal with old people in an institutional framework.”
The researchers also investigated whether providers were running any programs specifically aimed at recruiting migrant workers.
In the main, aged care was not actively recruiting migrant workers, given the majority were employed as personal carers/assistants in nursing, which are positions that cannot be sponsored through skilled migration streams, said Dr King.
“Mostly what happens in aged care is you get the secondary migrants – people who studied here, or migrated with their spouse and they’re looking for a job, or their families are migrants.”
While aged care was not targeting migrants, it was attracting them nonetheless because it was a growth area, Dr King said. “There are always job opportunities. Also, it is highly mobile, and once you have your skills you can go anywhere to work in Australia.”
Growth in residential workforce
Dr King said that further research was needed to determine why more migrants were working in residential care than in community care. However, she speculated it could be because there was more “ethnic matching” of client and carer in community care, and as most of the current cohort of CALD seniors were from backgrounds such as Italy and Turkey there was a mismatch with the new migrant groups which were predominantly Asian.
“Also I think residential aged care has conditions that migrants look for. It provides more structure in the sense there are more regular hours, better training opportunities, and clear supervision, so there is someone there they can ask a question of,” she said.
Debra King is speaking on ‘Workforce diversity – implications for service provision’ at the 2014 Cultural Diversity in Ageing Conference, which takes place from 12-13 June at Melbourne Convention Centre.