A foreign future for aged care’s workforce?

One of the biggest questions facing aged care providers is where their future workforce will come from; at home or abroad?

Above: Stephen Kobelke, CEO of ACSWA.

By Stephen Easton

West Australia’s aged and community care industry should look overseas for its future workforce, according to Aged & Community Services Western Australia (ACSWA).

ACSWA CEO, Stephen Kobelke, released the statement yesterday evening in response to remarks made last week by the WA Premier, Colin Barnett, that mining companies should be able to recruit unskilled workers from overseas.

“It is not only the mining sector that requires thousands of additional workers in the short to medium term, the aged and community care sector desperately needs workers too,” Mr Kobelke said.

“The reality is that health and aged care is WA’s single biggest sector, employing more than 141,000 workers, and yet our ageing population needs thousands more paid caregivers to cope with demand for future services.”

Mr Barnett’s comments have also attracted criticism, from an alliance of three unions and the Australian Steel Institute, who argue that “not enough is being done to harness the capacity of the underutilised labour force locally”.

Mr Kobelke said that access to temporary migration options from countries such as the UK and Ireland, as well as other parts of the world, should be made easier for aged care and personal care workers, who make up 65 per cent of the aged and community care workforce.

“Undoubtedly, there is going to be a greater demand for paid carers of older people, both in the community and in residential accommodation, and this increase must be planned for now as it will become acute in the mid-2020s. 

“It is also vital for the federal government to examine the current obstacles for these people to work in Australia due to the qualification and pay level barriers associated with the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) and 457 visas.

“In addition, WA’s special needs in terms of the vast size of our state and the impact of WA’s resources boom on salaries and the availability of local workers must also be recognised urgently.”

Meanwhile, on the east coast

Similar issues – but focused on aged care nurses – were also discussed at a recent industry forum in Sydney last week, hosted by Sue Macri and Bruce Bailey from Guild Accountants (now a subsidiary of RSM Bird Cameron).

Jonathan Shteinman, who owns several small nursing homes in the Sydney area, suggested that the registration board for nurses could recognise more overseas qualifications, and that the salary level requirement for 457 visas could be relaxed to extend them to first-year nurses.

“…Whether it’s the ethnic makeup of my workforce, or the fact of the [relatively high] average age of nurses, I just don’t believe that a lot of the Australian-based and educated nurses want to work in aged care, and I feel that bringing people in from overseas is definitely one of the biggest parts of the solution,” Mr Shteinman said.

“I really feel that the registration board issues [are also important]; you’ve even got British-trained nurses taking six months to get registered [in Australia] now.

“As you know I’ve brought them in from Zimbabwe but I can’t bring them in from the Philippines, because the Philippines isn’t a former Commonwealth country and that’s just crazy.”

Aged Care Association Australia (ACAA) CEO, Rod Young, told Mr Shteinman that the sector’s future workforce worries could only be solved with a range of solutions, but did not address the idea of utilising more overseas workers specifically.

ACAA-NSW CEO, Charles Wurf, agreed that there was “no magic bullet”, but said that aged care providers must accept their inability to offer competitive wages in some clinical positions, and offer employment conditions that attract workers in other ways.

“Certainly the overseas and interstate migration of skilled people will help but at the end of the day, we’ve now gone past a quarter of a million Australians who work in aged care, both in residential and community, with a projection for at least probably another 50,000,” Mr Wurf said.

“Unless you as an individual, and of us all in the room collectively, can offer attractive places to work then you’re not going to find them,” he told Mr Shteinman.

The forum’s facilitator, Sue Macri, pointed out that workforce pressures were even more acute in Queensland and Western Australia, due to the mining boom, as noted yesterday afternoon by Stephen Kobelke.

Graeme Prior, CEO of WA nursing home operator, Hall and Prior, said that the boom years preceding the global financial crisis (GFC) saw wages for WA aged care providers increase by about 8.5 per cent, while funding only grew by around 4 per cent, “so you lost your business basically, in that period of time”.

“The GFC levelled the market and today it’s stabilised with lots and lots of spare labour in the carers sector,” Mr Prior said. “Looking to the future, the boom’s coming back, and it’s starting to bite now.”

However, Mr Prior said that in his experience, recruiting Australian nurses to aged care work and retaining them was possible, but required a combination of high enough wages and other conditions like ongoing training.

“[…] We employ 240 Division 1 nurses and we have no problem getting nurses – they just cost the price – that’s what it boils down to. If you want to train them and keep them, you’ll keep them. The nurses are out there, the pool’s growing throughout the country every year; it’s just up to us to be able to afford higher wages.”

Mr Kobelke said aged and community care providers throughout WA were looking forward to action on the Productivity Commission’s Caring for Older Australians report, currently being considered by the Gillard Government ahead of the 2012/13 budget.

“Urgent reform on many levels, not least the provision of thousands of more workers, is exactly what we need to ensure an aged care system which is sustainable and provides older people with the choice of community or residential aged care services when they need them,” Mr Kobelke said.  

Tags: productivity-commission, wa, west-australia, western-australia, workforce,

13 thoughts on “A foreign future for aged care’s workforce?

  1. It astounds and saddens me that the first place governments and employers think of in staff shortage areas are overseas workers. I co-own the only national job board in Australia specifically for older workers (over the age of 45 years), http://www.olderworkers.com.au and have over 12,500 registered jobseekers looking for work. In a recent survey many of them stated they would like to do training and work in aged care. Has the industry considered looking for workers over the age of 45 in Australia? Doesn’t look like it. There is no one answer to the skill and staff shortage, however older workers are part of the answer and employers need to start considering how they can utilise the life skills and people skills many of them have.

  2. Hi
    Shorley better wages would attach more Australian people to work in the aged care industry instead of sending out for people overseas, shouldnt we be looking after the people in our own country first instead of overpopulating Australia

  3. I’m not going to speak for the mining sector as I know nothing about the workforce issues in mining, however I will speak to the aged are and healthcare sectors.

    The reality is that around 25% of Australia’s working population is heading into retirement; the group of people entering the workplace to replace them is only around 16% of the current working population. Whether we like it or not we will not have enough people aged under 50 to meet the demand for healthcare and aged care during the next 30 years.

    Incidentally, healthcare and the community sectors have experienced similar growth to the mining sector and that growth will continue as demand for services continues to grow.

    It should be remembered also that not every person seeking to work, wants to work in, or is qualified to work in healthcare and the community sector.

    Despite the call for relaxed immigration and visa criteria, it is unlikely immigration will provide anything other than a temporary solution.

    Especially in healthcare and aged care, many past immigrants have come from Asian nations or from India. These countries are growing at a faster rate than Australia. These countries are already being proactive about retaining their people or encouraging their expats to return to their homeland.

    Less and less immigrants will emigrate as the standard of living increases in their home country. Even those few that do emigrate, Australian businesses will have to compete for them against every other developed nation in the world, as they too experience labour shortages.

    The cost of bringing in temporary workers will continue to increase.


  4. I can’t believe this ridiculuois statement….where does he think the majority of the present aged care workers afe from….overseas..yes.
    Please do not forget the aged people….with hearing problems, cognition problems, dementia…have these fat cats ever thought about what’s like for an elderly old woman to be washed by a large black male from overseas (not saying that the male is not caring…but that it is scary for old people. Get real. Just pay more!!
    Hello politicians…what percentage of the population is over 60 now….I hope they end up in an Aged care home one day.

  5. 30 years ago the UK managed to provide care services almost entirely from it’s own UK population. Home care and aged care facilities had local workers.

    30 years on, the UK care sector can not manage without foreign workers. The demand for care is continually growing and will continue to do so and the only way for care providers to continue to offer increased services to more people is to recruit from overseas.

    When you need care, it is simple, someone has to be available to provide it.

  6. I find it perplexing to hear of difficulties in securing Registered Nurses for Aged Care when we have been trying to place overseas nationals who have studied bachelor of nursing in Australia and are now fully registered nurses and are here on temporary residence visas. They would love to secure such a position. many of these have overseas nursing experience before coming to Australia (one is even a medical doctor).

  7. All the existing data, such as that from the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University, shows that a good proportion of the aged care workforce is already born overseas. The proportion slightly exceeds the proportion of overseas born people in the Australian workforce as a whole. We don’t need to prevent immigrants to Australia working in aged care but it’s important that we understand the very negative impact that importing aged care staff on short-term visas will have on services, on education and on the long awaited reforms in the aged care workplace – which is increasingly in the home of the client.

    It’s about time that residential care providers, such as those listed above, as well as community care providers, took a more creative look at their workplace and their job design. The system still looks more or less like it did in the 1950s – it’s a hospital based system of care staff without the hospital wages. Over 94% of all staff are female – its probably the most sex segregated workplace in the country. Thats one of the obvious areas in which new recruitments could be sought – men. Think of new models – such as the personal trainer – that might appeal more to men, including men in their 40s and 50s, who are seeking decent work that is not soul destroying in the way that the mining, transport, building and finance industries have become. Pay decent wages, too, as the new Fair Work Australia decision will require. That will reward women as well as men who take on the entry level jobs. Then help these staff develop worthwhile careers.

    Lets not make the same mistake the USA and many European countries have made. The mining industry is no model – look at the ‘Fly-in Fly-out’ model they have adopted for most new projects. This destroys families. Short-term visas will lower wages and work against a long-term solution. Stop thinking in such a narrow way and open your minds to new approaches that will give both immigrants and existing Australian residents a fair go!

  8. When we talk about a long-term solution we should realise that the employees are also looking for long term employment. Most of the job advertisements for vacancies in aged care industry nowadays are casual & part time. This does not offer job security to the workforce. With the unemployment rate yet to increase again, I believe the young workforce will be looking for full time employment to secure their future. There is a lot of under utilised young workforce (local & immigrants)who are fully qualified yet jobless. The immigration is making it more tougher for the current immigrants to even find a job. Before importing more workforce from overseas, I think it would be in the best interest of the country to make use of available workforce.

  9. As an RN who works mainly in aged care on a short contract basis I frequently find residents who don’t have their needs met because of staff language and cultural difficulties. These residents’ for whom the whole age care industry has been tailored, have great difficulties understanding some of the nationalities that now care for them and frequently just nod because of their inability to comprehend what is being said to them.
    These imported workers are generally friendly people who have good nursing abilities however their language and cultural deficits should not be thrust on the “captive” elderly population
    A recent study stated that meaningful relationships and the associated communications were seen as the areas’ most desired by the elderly in aged care facilities.
    Perhaps adopting some of the Magnet Hospital guidelines would address the staff shortage and staff retention issues. Magnet guidelines include, collegiality, mentor-ship of new staff empowerment and meaningful education pathways for all staff, supportative supervisors, good work environments and adequate staffing etc…….. This is the mortar that produces a cohesive workforce with top resident outcomes.

  10. Frontline care solutions is already training large groups of Direct care workers and registered nurses that are born overseas. One factor that remains evident in our research is that people who work in aged care have a pession and do want to work in aged care. This is a significant factor for recruitment and retention issues. The other factors that are influencing the push and pull factors affecting nursing numbers is the immigration of nurnes around the globe that are driven by looking for better pay and conditions. Australia needs to value its gerontic nurses and bring them to pay parity in aged care as with other colleagues. More training in specialised skills to clinically lead and manage care.
    Care workers need to be trained and held accountable for their competency, and the RN needs to confidently lead and manage the delegation. Frontline Care solutions believes that creating a healthy workplace for careres and nurses needs to be a priority. Effective leadership and better orginisational cultures will attract better skilled and focused staff.
    The sooner the AIN is a registered scope of practice the more we will see the changes in the care factor. This will push the rest of the industry to sharpen its pencil when it comes to valueing the people that work on the frontline of care.

  11. I am a registered nurse who has struggled to get work despite being experienced in aged care because greedy employers want to take on cheaper foreign labour. I do not believe that these immigrant RNs know how much they should be paid or how to address the problem once they know that they have been underpaid. I don’t see the nurses union knocking on doors trying to get staff to attend meetings to find out their rights… There have been many new graduate Australian nurses who struggled also to get work. I also agree that having foreign nurses is not necessarily good for elderly people because there are sometimes communication difficulties.

  12. Why don’t we make it like the call centre industry, all the jobs in that industry have moved offshore. Move the elderly offshore, the government would cut aged care costs by half.

  13. It would not be a good idea to send people off shore because a) they still need their families and b) if you send them to a country which is cheaper such as an Asian country quite often their are significant cultural differences.

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