An aged care provider has launched a mentoring program for tertiary students to challenge their preconceptions about working in the sector.

The Whiddon Group is piloting the mentoring program in regional New South Wales and Queensland to inspire students to consider a career in the aged care industry.

The program involves senior registered nurses and non-clinical mentors at Whiddon providing tertiary health and care services students their personal insights into working in aged care.

Whiddon CEO Chris Mamarelis said the program aimed to address well-known negative perceptions of the aged care  industry and show it as a desirable and rewarding place to work.

“The tertiary mentoring program is about exposing people to our industry and changing these perceptions,” Mr Mamarelis told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Chris Mamarelis

Students participating in the mentoring program will spend four days with aged care staff in roles they are interested in, such as a registered nurse or chef.

Mr Mamarelis said they already knew that aged care was often not considered a desirable career option, particularly among younger people, but wanted to understand more to collectively overcome the challenge.

New research

To better understand young people’s attitudes towards a career in aged care, Whiddon commissioned YouGovGalaxy to survey 500 tertiary students aged between 18 and 23 from across Australia in June this year.

According to the findings released last week, two-thirds of students are not interested in a career in aged care.

Mr Mamarelis said this reflected the negative perception issues already identified by industry and government.

“The good news is that these are only perceptions and perceptions can, with focused effort, authenticity and time, be shifted,” he said.

Getting staffing and models of care right and introducing people to aged care as early as possible can improve the way younger people see the sector, Mr Mamarelis said.

“It’s imperative that children are introduced to ageing concepts and aged care settings at an early age to remove barriers and positively alter perceptions of working with older people,” he said.

“Showcasing the beautiful work that we do and the outcomes and stories that we experience in our homes day in day out is also an important component.”

Low-cost initiatives

The new mentoring program sits under Whiddon’s Future Care program, which includes a suite of training and mentoring initiatives.

Mr Mamarelis said the Future Care initiative was relatively inexpensive to implement when you considered costs related to turnover and recruitment.

“The formal components obviously require a level of investment and internal commitment, while the mentoring required is a commitment of time from existing employees and is often absorbed into the current cost structure,” he said.

The mentoring program was launched on 7 August to coincide with Aged Care Employee Day, a now annual initiative launched by Whiddon in 2018 to celebrate and recognise the contribution of aged care staff.

Other findings from the YouGovGalaxy poll:

  • 57 per cent view aged care as just a job rather than a career
  • 30 per cent do not see a clear career path in the industry
  • 46 per cent are unlikely to consider working in aged care due to lack of experience relating to older people
  • 37 per cent are unlikely to consider working in aged care due to limited knowledge about the industry
  • 17 per cent are unlikely to consider working in aged care because of what they have heard in the media
  • 67 per cent said fulfilling, meaningful work that helps others is the most important factor when selecting a career
  • 61 per cent said opportunities for advancement is the most important factor when selecting a career.

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  1. Over the years, community development workers have initiated and run programs to invite and support people to enter the aged care sector. While the focus has not been on people from nursing or other tertiary study backgrounds, our work has focused on people from multicultural/migrant backgrounds to consider a career in aged care. Unfortunately, our programs lacked the resources, financial and human to persevere beyond the term of funding. We investigated experiences of new workers (from culturally diverse backgrounds) to understand the types of supports they needed to remain in aged care. Most saw little career expansion or progression which aligns with the above poll.

    Our sector needs mentors both within and outside the organisation. Our sector needs to recognise people beyond nursing and direct care workers. Our sector needs to validate a range of qualifications and diversity of experiences. I have felt stymied by the ridiculous demands of roles (we need someone to manage volunteers… I don’t think you have the experience. Interviewer looks beyond the person’s experiences of volunteering and supporting people). Job roles are changing. Some occupations seem to have more validity than others. Counsellors are not recognised as valid professionals in aged care – not yet. We need to be open to the diversity of age, stage, experiences and professions for a person who chooses to enter the sector as a career of choice. I’ve yet to feel wholly validated after 20 years.

  2. Although this is a well overdue and much needed program in encouraging younger people it will never work unless the training is thorough and lasts longer then a few months it needs to be on going until the student has reached a level that reflects in the salary and certificates from day to day care through Dementia,Pallative,social,medications which could allow the student to perhaps pursue another role in Allied health as another career, at this time you can hold all these certificates get paid a dollar more, have more responsibility and go nowhere using these qualifications because it’s only looked at as a job that anyone can do, hence the oversea visa employees the government allowed to work in aged care. There is no registration, no accountability, a lot of facilities regardless of a staff member being unsuited keep them on because anyone is better then no one.
    Students like the rest of us already in the profession will soon learn that we are always under the pump, always short staffed, get paid poorly for doing both mental and physical work some jobs no one would ever choose to do, get no appreciation from our managers who just burn staff out, so the shortage of young people who are a lot wiser and with much more choice in the workforce these days can’t be hoodwinked, the whole industry needs a shake up, instead of these people sitting in offices having these wonderful ideas do a shift, speak to people who have been in the industry a long time and get a better insight. It needs to change from the top.

  3. I love working as a registered nurse in aged care but it is a sacrifice. The low pay, unpaid overtime, being overworked and not taking breaks to adequately care for residents becomes the catalyst for moving to hospital work where the pay, conditions and patient to nurse ratio is vastly better!

  4. Hi Chris,
    Excellent findings, that are in the midst of the topics around aged care.
    I currently teach at CQUniversity and out students are offered placements in aged care in first and third year.
    I found it interesting to read that students will not work in aged care due to the lack of experience with older people, older people are consumers across many areas in health and graduate nurses will have no experiences in any area of health.
    I agree we can change there views, the promotion of RN’’s in aged care is vital. I am currently undertaking a PhD in aged care, SDM , adult children and staff.
    I would be happy to share ideas and assist in making significant changes to students attitudes, to promote RN’s into aged care
    Regards Ainslie.

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