The eagerly-awaited results of the aged care workforce census show the residential sector has grown substantially, with current recruitment and retention approaches “working well.”
The total number of workers across residential and community care increased 4 per cent since the last survey in 2012 to more than 366,000 staff, according to the latest Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey, released on Monday.
The latest snapshot showed the total residential workforce grew by 17 per cent since 2012, employing more than 235,000 workers.
The number of direct care workers increased by 5 per cent in residential aged care to more than 153,000 workers, but it fell 7 per cent in home care and home support, to 86,463 workers.
The researchers said this reduction in community care workers “may cause concern.”
The latest census and survey is based on responses from 2,240 aged care facilities and 2,307 home care and home support outlets. The snapshot also included an analysis of data provided by the Department of Health, as well as in-depth interviews with frontline workers.
The census and survey is undertaken by the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University.
Growth in care workers
Echoing earlier surveys, the 2016 snapshot reported that residential aged care facilities continue to increasingly rely on personal care workers to provide direct care to residents.
“There has been some increase in the number of registered nurses, but there has been a corresponding and larger fall in the number of enrolled nurses,” the report said.
Personal care workers remained the largest group in the direct care workforce (70 per cent) and continued to grow “both numerically and as a proportion of the residential aged care workforce,” the snapshot said.
The number of RNs rose by 539 between 2012 and 2016, but the number of ENs fell by 1,218. While the proportion of RNs stayed unchanged at 15 per cent of the workforce, the share of ENs decreased from 12 per cent to 10 per cent.
Drop in casuals but underemployment persists
The latest survey showed a reduction in casual employment in the aged care sector.
In residential care, 10 per cent of direct care workers were on a casual or contract arrangement in 2016, down from 19 per cent in 2012.
However, the survey also found indications of “potentially under-utilised labour supply” as 30 per cent of workers wanted to increase their hours, compared to 14 per cent who wanted to reduce them.
The extent of workers holding multiple jobs provided further evidence of “spare capacity” within the existing workforce, the snapshot said.
“In 2016, 9 per cent of residential workers and 16 per cent of home care and home support workers had more than one job, compared to 5 per cent of the whole Australian workforce.”
Most of the additional jobs worked by these staff were within the aged and disability care sectors, the survey found.
Workforce is stable, committed
Overall, the researchers said the results showed the aged care workforce is “both stable and committed.”
“Workers report relatively high levels of job satisfaction and a large majority wish to stay working in the sector,” they said.
Nonetheless, negative perceptions of aged care work as an occupation of low pay and status remained, the survey found.
“Given the need for the expansion of the aged care workforce, this issue must be addressed,” it said.
Pay remains a key issue
When asked about their satisfaction with specific aspects of the job, aged care workers were least satisfied with their total pay and with the time available to them to care for residents.
Residential workforce getting younger
In terms of workforce characteristics, the latest snapshot reported that “the residential workforce is getting younger while the home care workforce is getting older.”
In residential care, the proportion of direct care workers aged 55 or over remained stable in the latest survey (at 27 per cent), but the proportion of those aged under 35 years had risen to 25 per cent in 2016 from 19 per cent in 2012.
The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the residential direct care workforce stayed unchanged, at 1 per cent of the workforce.
Although aged care remains a female dominated sector, the proportion of males in the workforce continued to grow. The latest snapshot showed men make up 13 per cent of direct care workers in residential care and 11 per cent in home care.
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