Department’s comments spark workforce focus

A DSS submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry proposes enhanced skilled migration to bolster the aged care workforce, which has been welcomed by employers.

A DSS  submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry proposes enhanced skilled migration to bolster the aged care workforce, which has been welcomed by employers.

Aged care provider peak bodies have welcomed new comments from the Department of Social Services (DSS) suggesting the greater use of migrant workers to address the sector’s workforce shortages.

In a submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Australia’s migration scheme, DSS said that with the ageing population and projected shortage of unpaid carers, “alternative models for determining migration intakes could provide opportunities to increase/complement the existing aged and disability care workforce shortages and augment labour shortages in the healthcare system.”

Under the current migration arrangements, aged care providers can sponsor and employ registered nurses from overseas, but are precluded from sponsoring personal care workers due to requirements around qualifications and minimum salary.

When asked by Australian Ageing Agenda to clarify whether DSS was proposing changing the scheme so that care workers could be sponsored, a departmental spokesperson said that its submission “simply canvasses a range of issues” and that weekend media reports of a “government plan” in the area were “exaggerated.”

But aged care provider peak bodies say that a government plan in the area is exactly what’s needed.

John Kelly
John Kelly

Adjunct Professor John Kelly, CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia, said that with 1,000 people turning 85 and 2,000 turning 65 each week, the aged services workforce was in need of strategic government planning and policy.

“There’s been a lot of lip service, but it has not been given the priority it should be,” Adjunct Professor Kelly told AAA.

Government figures showed the sector would need another 25,000 full time equivalent workers in residential care and 17,000 in home care, he said. Even with the most creative recruitment programs, the aged care workforce shortfall would not be addressed.

“There is no doubt that migration will have to play a significant part in meeting the needs of the sector,” he said.

When asked whether the migration scheme should be broadened so providers could sponsor personal care workers, Adjunct Professor Kelly said that “anything that enables providers to be able to directly tap into not just registered nurses but care workers from overseas is beneficial.”

Similarly, Leading Age Services Australia CEO Patrick Reid said that new strategies were required to address the sector’s workforce shortages, which would only get worse as demand for services increased.

Patrick Reid
Patrick Reid

“LASA supports the immediate development of a workforce strategy that includes changes to immigration policy that would improve opportunities for skilled care workers from overseas to join Australia’s age services industry as one part of the solution to addressing our workforce shortage,” Mr Reid told AAA.

LASA was working with representatives from both government and the opposition on alternate workforce models, which included different models for migration intake, he said.

While there was a recognised shortage of registered nurses in aged care, suitably skilled care workers were also needed to adequately meet the needs of all older Australians. In addition to everyday care, these needs included changing cultural diversity within the ageing population, Mr Reid said.

Unions representing nurses and care workers in aged care had mixed views on the department’s comments.

Jo-anne Schofield
Jo-anne Schofield

Jo-anne Schofield, national president of United Voice, said that relying on overseas workers on temporary visas was a very short-term solution.

“Utilising skilled overseas workers to fill temporary shortages is entirely appropriate but we need to be investing in longer term solutions that provide good jobs for local workers,” she told AAA.

“We very much support permanent migration to Australia. Temporary work visas should be just that – a short term, temporary arrangement to fill a gap while the local workforce can be trained up to fill these positions,” said Ms Schofield.

Lee Thomas
Lee Thomas

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation said that while it supported migration, it was increasingly concerned about the negative impact of temporary migrant workers on the employment of domestic graduate nurses.

“Over the past few years there has been a consistent and chronic underemployment of nursing graduates despite the employment of large numbers of offshore nurses,” said ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas.

Nurses with temporary work visas were employed across all sectors of health, community and aged care, with residential aged care and private hospitals employing the bulk of these workers, she said.

“Any moves to expand the use of temporary migrant workers in health and aged care as has been suggested by the Department of Social Services would very likely exacerbate the difficulty in securing employment for graduate nurses and midwives,” said Ms Thomas.

Call for release of workforce audit and strategy

Meanwhile, the sector is still awaiting the outcome of a key review into existing workforce initiatives.

In January, AAA confirmed that the Commonwealth had begun an audit of government-funded aged care workforce programs with the aim of developing an aged care workforce development strategy.

The audit, being undertaken by consulting firm Health Outcomes International, began in October 2014 and was expected to be completed by mid-2015.

Subsequently, in May, the Federal Government cut 15 per cent from the Aged Care Workforce Fund, which Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield confirmed was made independently of the government’s audit.

In recent weeks the federal opposition has been calling for the government to reveal the outcome of the audit and produce its workforce strategy for the sector.

In a joint statement on 3 July, Shane Neumann, Shadow Minister for Ageing, and Senator Helen Polley, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care, accused the government of ignoring the “workforce crisis in aged care.”

“We are still waiting to find out what this audit revealed, let alone see an aged care workforce strategy – coherent or otherwise,” they said.

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Tags: aged-and-community-services-australia, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, department of social services, dss, Jo-anne Schofield, john-kelly, leading-age-services-australia, lee-thomas, patrick-reid, productivity-commission, united-voice,

9 thoughts on “Department’s comments spark workforce focus

  1. Quote from Ms Thomas:
    “Any moves to expand the use of temporary migrant workers in health and aged care as has been suggested by the Department of Social Services would very likely exacerbate the difficulty in securing employment for graduate nurses and midwives,” said Ms Thomas.

    Does Ms Thomas have figures showing the % of unemployed Australian graduate nurses? And, if there is such a shortage of nurses/personal carers in Australia (I presume that is why we have to employ people on 457 visas), why would there be any unemployed graduate nurses?

  2. This is a fascinating subject to digest. Currently we are already being introduced to the dialog that WE as an industry are not respecting the diversity of the CALD staff that are being employed into the sector. English as a second language is difficult for staff to understand and to face the barriers they have to deal with in the workplace from both clients and other staff.

    Two things have to be considered in this ideology of increasing the immigrated staff levels.
    1. is the standards of the industry and the standards of the education to work effectively within it, and
    2. Is the values we have already as a culture and sub culture ourselves, which include the first point as well

    Nursing as a professional industry has a culture and one that has fundamental focus on understanding diversity. As we move and shake up the industry we seem to building capacity that has less need for the nurses, and this in itself is a danger.

    Nurse leaders, educators and managers are needed to play a big role in the new frontier of care for the elderly, and if we are going to build the workforce with more immigrated staff than we need to ensure the standards of care , communication, empowerment, and diversity are well taught , understood and transacted with.

    Given that we need more carers in the game , we also need to keep the standards that our elderly expect in the delivery of their nursing care. This is going to take some transformational leadership and some very passionate nurse leaders.

    I cant be any more pleased that this workforce issue is on the agenda, but it will be disappointing to see the nurse leadership needed disenfranchised just to meet numbers that match the poor pay and conditions.

    Dr Drew Dwyer

  3. Just questioning why this article seems to intimate that every person over a certain age will need to be supported. If you look at the statistics its only a small proportion do actually need support wether at home or in residential care. Would it not be more effective to train up people who live here so that the skills base stays here for the future rather than bring over yet another group of people that we really cant afford to support. Train up Australian citizens rather than look overseas. With unemployment riding as high as it is at the moment this at best is a short term solution without really long lasting benefits for Australia. When we we realise that if we pay to skill up people who will not stay here the benefit of the skills do not stay in this country now and in the longer term. We already educate a lot of overseas people and their skills do not stay in this country meaning that at some stage we will have an unskilled workforce. Its not rocket science.

  4. Australia is not the only country with this workforce issue. In fact, in most Asian developing nations the percentage of the population over 65 is increasing at a dramatically greater rate than in Australia. Disability rates are also much greater than in Australia (refer WHO statistics). This increase in demand will last for well over the next generation. Asia has 4 billion of the world’s 7 billion people, and its growing. Asia is also half way through its multi-generational urbanisation process, meaning there is a demand for increased quality of life outcomes, and almost all the Asian countries without universal health care have committed to delivering it. Again, much much greater demand than Australia.

    Given this global demand would it not be the smartest thing to do to invest in our tertiary systems (Uni’s and TAFE’s) and ensure there is a broad range of credentialed nursing and carer healthcare workers across both generalist and condition specific skill sets. The volume of international trainees is clearly there over the long term and Australia is already well credentialed in training overseas students. International students could also spend various periods of time doing onsite work experience adding to their qualifications.

    The transition to new business and staffing models around consumer directed care is of course an important part of the equation. Employees need to see this evolving health industry domain as a well paid and exciting career to pursue.

    The result : a double win for Australia – we fulfil a local supply deficit with properly credentialed staff and we generate a new large and ongoing export revenue stream for the country.

  5. We pay governments our high taxes, and consultants and politicians healthy salaries to make decisions based on what’s best for our nation, the public, and to be holistically aware of issues so that they can make constructive policies appropriately. However, they are clearly living in a vacuum of privilege and ignorance!
    We can’t offset an ageing population by adding migrants! It seems that every economic problem is to be solved by “growth’, when it’s actually adding to the problem. Migrants actually form a growing proportion of our ageing population! With our massive welfare budget, and youth unemployment surge, why are we importing more migrants to work in the public service sector? It’s illogical to just turn on the immigration tap that will deprive many existing Australians an egalitarian opening into the workforce.
    The chronic underemployment of graduate nurses is because there are too many imported skilled migrants! Wake up Australia – we are not a bottomless pit of human and natural resources. Vested interest groups are feathering their own nests at the expense of the community!

  6. Much of the care work available in the aged care sector is targeted at lower skills (and therefore remuneration levels) than qualified Nurses. Community-based aged care workers paid under the SACS or Home Care schedule of the SCHCADS award are paid at a very low rate, particularly for the level of care and service they provide, and they have very little job security due to the casualisation of the workforce. No qualified nurse would work for such low pay. The new Regional Assessment Service introduced on 1st July, where contracts were won in a competitive tendering process, does not pay at a rate that could employ nurses in the role of Home Assessors – only at a Team Leader level, and even then at a low rate. If the government valued aged care workers, they would fund accordingly.
    In the rural community where I live and work, we have no shortage of community care workers – in fact, we no longer advertise when a vacancy comes up as we have a draw full of CVs dropped in by people seeking work. The practice of pushing underemployed and/or unemployed people through some sort of skills training has resulted in a local workforce that has the required qualifications, but that does not mean they are necessarily suited to the type of work for which they have qualifications. I would prefer quality over quantity.

  7. Further to my comment above ….

    Australia and China have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to strengthen collaboration on quality assurance for vocational education and training (VET).

    Speaking in China following his meeting with Chinese Vice Minister for Education, Mr Hao Ping, Senator Birmingham said the Australian Government is building strong partnerships with China in the area of quality training and skills development.

    An MoU has been signed between the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) and the China Education Association for International Exchange, to strengthen the skills and VET relationship with China and ensure the ongoing quality of training.

    For more information:

  8. I have nothing against migrant workers, but if aged care workers were paid a decent wage there will be less of a shortage. To me this proves how Aged Care Facilities want to keep the industry as is and not give it the respect that it deserves. Management of facilities should be fighting to pay workers better wages and have the money for better training and not employ more cheap workers, so CEO’s and other levels of management keep their high wages.

  9. As a migrant and fierce defender of my sector, I do not believe that skilled migration should include care workers in response to the ageing of our population. Some years ago there was an unusually high take up of aged & community courses by particular migrant communities (and strangely by one particular gender). We have definitely not seen the flow on affect of this strange phenomenon other than the sector as a soft target for migration.

    More recently in response to high levels of unemployment in a certain part of Sydney, we developed a grassroots project to engage potential workers. This project suggests that we need intensive engagement with both old and new migrant communities in order to build that workforce to provide culturally specific workers as well as workers from diverse backgrounds to care for older people. Think about the wins from a young African woman caring for an older South Asian. Both workers and clients would grow through this engagement, reluctantly but fruitfully in the end, with support.

    We have high levels of unemployment, underemployment and a near retiring population who would benefit from small amounts of work. Let’s not pretend that all older people need support. They need small amounts of support at different times but possibly higher levels of support towards the end of their life. I know – this is my father’s experience over the last year. He benefited greatly from engagement with an Anglo Australian male.

    We need to support our current workforce to become efficient and skilled (through learning and experiences) and we need to support a new generation of workers to our sector.

    For those who advocate for the migration of workers, let’s give thought to the loss of skills in the migrant country and particularly to the loss of family particularly parents (and women) who leave their children (and family networks) to care for someone else in a distance place.

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