Looking beyond the workforce numbers 

Attracting and retaining staff in aged care remains a pressing challenge, writes Andrea Petriwskyj.

Attracting and retaining staff in aged care remains a pressing challenge, but it is important not to lose sight of the end goal, writes Andrea Petriwskyj.

Workforce continues to be one of the most challenging issues in aged care. The sheer number of people needed is huge and the shortfall is resulting in serious consequences for providers, staff, and, most importantly, for people who receive or are waiting for services.

It is no wonder then that the major focus of many of those trying to find solutions is simply to find people to fill the roles. It has become a discussion about numbers, ratios and targets. The task is enormous, but it should not be oversimplified.

Having enough staff is of course critical to good care. We have clearly seen some of the issues that can arise when services are understaffed and under pressure.

However, having a specific number of staff who are trained to provide services is not enough.

Providing a service is not the only goal

Andrea Petriwskyj

The purpose of care and support services is to contribute to the life a person wants for themselves, and to the possibilities and opportunities open to them. For us, care is about supporting people to thrive.

It should by now be clear what the expectations are for the type and quality of care and support that need to be provided. If the royal commission findings were not enough, the reforms including the revised Aged Care Quality Standards are fairly explicit about concepts such as understanding each individual and what that means for care, respect, choice and autonomy, and partnership.

Consumers continue to tell us they are looking for a workforce that is not only competent, confident, and well-trained, but also caring, empathetic, good communicators, adaptable and respectful. The type of relationship with workers that people want can be variable, but the underlying message is about the ability and willingness of care staff to use their interpersonal skills to understand and adapt to individual preferences.

This kind of care work can be complex, nuanced and highly skilled. Good providers know this and understand the critical role the direct care workforce plays not only in good care, but in the success of the whole organisation.

Indeed, when we have shared our consortium’s approach to the Australian Government-funded Home Care Workforce Support Program – which focuses on supporting high-quality, person-centred care in the growing workforce – there has been resounding support from providers and consumers alike.

Gaps exist everywhere

However, as part of our work through the program, we have heard from providers and consumers that new staff often come to the sector inadequately prepared. The skills and knowledge gaps all have either direct or indirect implications for the ability to respond to and support individual needs and preferences.

We also continue to hear about issues with organisational processes, policies and culture that can get in the way of good person-centred practice and limit opportunities for care staff to build fulfilling careers in the sector that use their training to its potential.

We know there are also lots of concerns about policy and system challenges that make the kind of care and support Australians want and need more challenging to provide.

That is why it is so vitally important that – while finding staff to fill shifts is a challenge in itself – we must not take our eyes from the end goal. Solving the issues with quality of care requires that we ensure this workforce is adequately trained, supported and valued by the system and by provider organisations.

We have been working to bring together the perspectives of as many diverse stakeholders as we can to create practical initiatives to support this growing care workforce to provide the care that older Australians expect and deserve. However, there is significant work still to be done.

Join the discussion

Through the program, we are working with the community, recruitment and training organisations, service providers, staff and researchers, as well as feeding our learnings back to government. We would love to have your input, and we invite you to join the discussion.

Be part of the conversation about the future of the person-centred home care workforce now on our engagement hub. We will also be running webinars for providers and releasing a podcast series for the personal care workforce, so follow our hub page or keep an eye on the COTA Queensland website for updates.

Andrea Petriwskyj works on the Home Care Workforce Support Program at COTA Queensland. She works with stakeholders to support the development of a sustainable, skilled, and person-centred home care workforce. COTA Queensland works with consortium partners Skills Hubs and Skills Generation on this Australian Government-funded program.

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Tags: Andrea-Petriwskyj, COTA Queensland, home care, workforce,

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