The aged care sector is facing a shortage of 110,000 direct care workers within a decade if immediate action is not taken, a Committee for Economic Development of Australia report has found.

CEDA’s report released this week found the sector needs at least 17,000 more direct aged care workers, which includes personal care workers, nurses and allied health professionals, each year for the next 10 years to meet basic standards of care.

If no action is taken, by 2050 there will be a shortage of 400,000 direct care staff needed to meet the three-star standard of 200 minutes of care per resident each day announced in the 2021-22 Federal Budget, it predicts.

The report makes 18 recommendations based on consultation with aged care providers, training organisations, unions and academics to attract and retain workers into the sector.

Those recommendations include improving wages and working conditions, providing more training to aged care workers, dedicated paths to attract migrant workers and investing in technology to reduce administrative and physical burdens.

CEDA senior economist and the report’s author Cassandra Winzar said improving wages and working conditions soon was key to expanding the workforce.

“Wages are the pressing issue at the moment. We need to address all the different areas in the workforce, but if you don’t address the wages issue, you’re not going to have much luck either attracting new people or retaining existing staff,” Ms Winzar told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Cassandra Winzar

However, wages alone will not solve the sector’s workforce shortages, she said.

“We want to see more staff getting qualifications. For a personal care worker, we want to see that mandatory minimum qualification of a Certificate III. But we also want to see more ongoing training and professional development for workers to ensure they’ve got the skills they need to provide high quality care,” she said.

Migrants, who currently represent 30 per cent of the aged care workforce, are also important, Ms Winzar said.

“It’s been a little bit tricky with COVID and border closures but once borders reopen we need to at least maintain the previous levels of migration and potentially increase the size. The workforce challenge is not one that we’ll be able to meet without some level of migration,” she said.

How the public perceives aged care also impacts on attracting and retaining staff, said Ms Winzar.

“The sector has been under so much pressure. We had the royal commission shine a light on some of the worst aspects of the sector and absolutely we do need to improve it,” she said.

“[If the numbers] keep going at the current rate, we will not be providing the high quality care that Australians expect for either themselves or for their family members and there will be people missing out on care or getting below quality care if we don’t address the number of workers in the sector.”

The report also found that the government will need to provide 18,000 additional home care workers over the next two years if it’s to deliver the promised 80,000 new Home Care Packages.

Ms Winzar called for immediate action on the recommendations.

“We can’t implement everything right now, but we need to get started and we need to be addressing things across all the different areas, not just looking at one option. There’s no silver bullet solution here,” she said.

Other recommendations

  • The National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey should take place every two years.
  • Employers should focus on improving rostering, including using digital solutions, to better utilise the existing workforce.
  • Industry, unions and the Federal Government should review and revise conditions around minimum shift lengths, paid travel time and the cancellation of shifts under the relevant awards.
  • Extend the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements scheme for a minimum of two to three years for aged care traineeships.
  • State governments should fully refund fees for Certificate III after graduates have worked in the state’s aged care sector for two years.

Access the Duty of care: Meeting the aged care workforce challenge report.

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