By Yasmin Noone
The national regulator of Australia’s vocational education and training sector has announced it will enact a key Productivity Commission’s (PC) recommendation, and conduct a strategic review of vocational education and training (VET) in the aged and community care sector.
The review, to be conducted by the relatively new regulatory body – the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), will take a whole-of-sector view to aged and community care training, and aim to identify issues and formulate solutions.
The move is said to ensure that aged and community care sector workers have the right skills and qualifications to offer quality care to an increasing number of older people.
ASQA chief commissioner, Chris Robinson, said the review will also help to further detail the key training-related problems identified within the PC’s Caring for Older Australians (2010) inquiry.
“These concerns included the variability in the quality of training provided by registered training organisations (RTOs) and the need for better regulation; and fast-tracking of qualifications, for example, delivering a Certificate III qualification in less than a month,” Mr Robinson said.
“…As the number of older Australians rises and the demand for aged care services increases, there will be an increase in demand for a well-trained aged care workforce…
“It is essential that we prepare for this growth now by ensuring those undertaking VET-level qualifications are equipped with the right skills.”
Mr Robinson said that ASQA’s audit process is currently identifying RTOs that are non-compliant and influencing change in these organisations.
ASQA had already surveyed all RTOs delivering aged care training that fall within its jurisdiction, with the results of the survey helping to shape the review.
“Targeted audits of RTOs will also be undertaken and these will be supplemented by the information available from the audits of aged and community care training providers already undertaken by ASQA,” he said.
A management committee comprised of key sector players will oversee the review.
Participants include the Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC), Health Services Union, Department of Health and Ageing, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research & Tertiary Education, Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency, and health care employer Feros Care.
CEO of the CS&HISC, Rod Cooke, said it has been concerned about the quality of delivery by some providers for years now and is therefore pleased to be working with ASQA on the review.
“In our 2011 Environmental Scan, this issue was highlighted as a key concern as were the reports of mounting evidence that poor quality in delivery was adding to the skills shortage as employers were reticent to hire aged care graduates,” Mr Cooke said.
“At our Training Quality Forum held in Sydney last month, training providers, government agencies, industry and worker representatives and CS&HISC agreed on the need to work together to ensure all graduates have the skills to be more job ready.
And, he added, “with latest statistics from the ABS indicating that 48 per cent of the workforce within Health Care and Social Assistance may be retiring in the next 10-15 years, the importance of providing industry with quality-qualified skilled workers is a national priority.
The news, delivered this week, has been welcomed by most players with an interest in VET in the aged care space, including skills councils, unions and employer peak bodies.
The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) praised the review, as it too has “long been concerned” about the fast-tracking of students through aged care courses and the potential risk that these courses do not adequately prepare students for practice.
“Many of our members gave evidence to the Productivity Commission that qualified aged care nurses were being replaced by non-qualified workers,” ANF federal secretary, Lee Thomas, said.
“Students with inadequate training cannot be expected to be put to work in nursing homes to care for vulnerable residents, with many of them suffering a range of chronic and complex health problems.
“That’s why the federal government must implement better workforce staffing levels and the right skills mix and a national licensing system for aged care workers to ensure the delivery of safe patient care for older Australians living in nursing homes.”
The ANF’s new national campaign, Stop passing the buck, Australia’s nursing grads need jobs, was launched this week in response to sectorwide training woes.
The campaign calls on the government to enact a range of strategies, one of which is to require the rotation of graduate nurses through non-traditional graduate areas such as primary care and aged care as well as acute settings.
“This would help address the current workforce issues experienced across the aged care sector.”
Aged and Community Services Australia, John Kelly, CEO, said the workforce problems faced by the sector are larger than just training and education, although these are two significant contributors.
“Part of the problem for the sector is that nurses in aged care are generally paid about 14 per cent less than those who worked in hospitals,” Mr Kelly said.
Although aged care workers are resourceful and dedicated to their job, their motivation is the people they care for not the wages received.
“The salary disparity adds a level of difficulty in attracting people to work in the industry.
“Elderly people in nursing homes often have quite complex health needs and a certificate III qualification provides insufficient training for workers to confidently meet those needs.”
The review is due to be completed by June 2013. Once finalised, ASQA will be expected to release a report of its findings and recommendations for further action by other agencies and stakeholders.