Stakeholders debate aged care workforce needs

A panel of industry stakeholders say qualifications are just one aspect of the skillset that aged care workers need to possess.

An aged care worker’s ability to provide meaningful care is just as important as their qualifications, an industry forum heard.

In a panel discussion on Thursday, Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recognised the relationship between the care worker and care recipient was fundamental to quality care.

Sean Rooney

“For care workers, it’s not just about a technical skill and a qualification, it’s about temperament. It’s about ensuring that we have people in our sector that have in their DNA that empathy and that want to care for others,” Mr Rooney told CEDA’s Australia’s aged care workforce post-Royal Commission online event.

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers echoed Mr Rooney’s comments telling the forum that “qualifications are not everything”.

“They are the nuts and bolts and they are the bits that tell us that someone’s going to do something competently and well. But we also need to be really looking for those people who have that aptitude and who we can train those qualifications into,” Ms Chambers said.

Addressing awards and wages  

Top from L to R: CEDA panel facilitator Ian Thompson, Debby Blakey, Kasy Chambers and Sean Rooney

Industry super fund HESTA CEO, Debby Blakey told the forum that addressing aged care wages would be hard and that bringing awareness to the importance of aged care work was the vital first step. 

“[Aged care staff] are such a vital part of our Australian workforce and I do agree it’s not simple. We can’t just say let’s change conditions and change the work. But I think to such a large extent, Australians are more aware than ever of the need for quality care for older Australians. I think the pandemic has done that I think the royal commission has done that,” Ms Blakey said.

Debby Blakey

Ms Chambers said a fundamental issue with aged care funding is the gap between what society expects aged care to do and what people are prepared to pay.

“It would help enormously if everybody understood what went on in aged care, if we were able to communicate that to people. I think that is a job for the industry to do,” she said.

Ms Chambers said she is optimistic about changing awards and wages for the workforce despite awards being “hugely logistically difficult”.

“Things like awards or even taxation rates… weren’t on the back of the of the tablet that Moses brought down and they’re not a sort of a physical rule that Newton discovered. They are something that we made and they are something that we can unmake,” Ms Chambers said.

Reliance on migrant workforce

Elsewhere, Ms Chambers said it was “immoral” for Australia to rely on migrant workers, who are often from poorer countries.

Kasy Chambers

“We should be able to train our own workforce. It’s not right for us to be a sink for those other people and to take them away from those other communities,” she said.

However, Mr Rooney said a migrant workforce enables engagement with older people who have a first language other than English.

“There’s a part of us that needs to be able to accommodate that in a person-centred aged care system,” he said.

Workforce in the Budget

On the upcoming Federal Budget, Mr Rooney said he hoped to see workforce, skills and training, and appropriate remuneration addressed.

“This budget will really set the path to determining the future for the aged care system for the next decade or so. And the key to this will be ensuring that aged care work and aged care workers are valued and enabled and supported to deliver the care and services that older Australians need and deserve,” he said.

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Tags: aged care workforce, anglicare australia, ceda, Debby Blakey, hesta, Kasy Chambers, leading age services austalia, Sean Rooney,

4 thoughts on “Stakeholders debate aged care workforce needs

  1. “Mr Rooney said a migrant workforce enables engagement with older people who have a first language other than English.”

    Well that sort of depends upon the relative cultural backgrounds of both care giver and care recipient. I mean if the majority of your care staff are from India, Nepal and the Philippines and you have few if any residents from these countries in your facility, then I can’t see what the benefits are of having a culturally diverse carer population.

  2. I actually liked the comment from Ms Chambers, that “it was “immoral” for Australia to rely on migrant workers, who are often from poorer countries.” I would have appreciated some expansion on her ideas.

    I think it is indeed very immoral that we employ people from India, Nepal and other Asian countries, who work to try and get PR status in Australia; who have no Medicare card so they pay for everything; who often have to work two or three jobs in aged care to make ends meet; for appalling wages; doing jobs that Australians are not interested in; who often have university qualifications in their home at are not recognised here and pay huge amounts of money in fees to try and secure permanency as residents of this country.

    I say to them, so you think Australia is a land of equality and diversity where we value care workers? Don’t judge us by what we say (cos we talk ourselves up really well), judge us by how we treat people like you guys.

    And we treat these people like indentured servants. Pretty disgusting I think.

  3. Some years ago, I had the privilege of exploring the devaluation (and revaluation) of care workers through a thesis, as a care worker, as a migrant, as a (then) younger woman with caring responsibilities and with skills and qualifications. Do you think anyone in the aged care sector cared or valued my training who, in Sean R’s words ‘have in their DNA that empathy and that want to care for others’? Absolutely not.

    As a skilled Counsellor today, those skills and training (postgrad quals, volunteering, advocacy) remain invalidated in the Aged Care Sector. I have approached a number of aged care organisations to offer my services as a skilled Counsellor with a focus on older people with 20 years experience. No interest. Why? Are women of colour just good enough to be care workers and nothing else?

    If one looks really closely, our care/support workers today in both home + residential care are of migrant backgrounds, and yes there’s a disparity in the population of care workers and those being cared-for. I’ve never really understood the oft raised argument about an unskilled workforce in the care sector. Most, if not all workers, have a Cert-3, the minimum qualification and hopefully some additional training along the way to work with people who have dementia, mental illness + co-morbidities. The sector (read: care workers, admin) has never been adequately remunerated because caring is not given its value, and perhaps because the sector is female-dominated, its value remains low relative to other occupations.

    As a once-care worker, I am always glad of my experiences from the ground up, but let’s not pretend that we all have equal opportunities in the sector, even with qualifications, skills and experiences.

  4. Wow, Caroline, such a lot to unpack.
    The comment by Sean was, for me, too silly to even comment on, but as you point out it does betray an underlying attitude toward aged care, women and (I suspect) women of colour.
    If you are suggesting that as aged care is a feminised workforce we don’t have to pay them (women) much (after all why do we have to pay women for doing what comes naturally) then I will agree with you. And if you are suggesting that we, as a society, see women and particularly women of colour, as being only fit for the job of caring and not for more intellectual pursuits of (say) Counsellor, I will agree with that also. Despite being located next to Asia, Australia still lives with the cultural influence of the White Australia Policy. And we remain firmly entrenched in patriarchy.
    Change is slow.
    I hope you are living your ambitions.

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