Stepping up higher learning for the aged care workforce

New efforts are underway in Australian universities to meet the future education and career development needs of the aged care workforce.

New efforts are underway in Australian universities to meet the future education and career development needs of the aged care workforce

The University of Newcastle has been working with the aged care industry to develop a new education pathway for direct care workers to upskill from a Certificate III or Certificate IV qualification.

The Associate Degree of Integrated Care in Ageing will run from next year and offers aged care workers the opportunity to further their education and career development as part of a two-year degree program.

Associate professor Chris Kewley from the University of Newcastle’s school of nursing and midwifery says the course acts as a bridge between the vocational education and training (VET) and university sectors.

“There are very few qualifications specific to aged care between VET and university level degrees,” he tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

The qualification also offers a “stepping stone” between a certificate IV in an aged care field and a bachelor’s degree in allied health, nursing and postgraduate health, says Kewley.

Workplace learning

Professor Judith Scott, deputy head of the Faculty of Health and Medicine (education) at the University of Newcastle, says the program is industry-focused and encourages students to learn in their own workplaces.

It is a requirement that students undertaking the associate degree be employed in paid or voluntary work in a field relevant to older people.

“The learning style will encourage students to look to their own experiences and workplaces to support their learning,” she tells AAA.

Extensive consultation with industry when developing the course stressed the need for a “contextually-based learning environment,” says Scott.

Industry feedback also highlighted a significant gap between what is currently attained through a certificate IV and the skills required to perform in new and emerging models of service delivery, she says.

In particular, the course responds to the move to an integrated care approach and focus on wellness when delivering services to older people.

The qualification is multidisciplinary and draws on a range of disciplines including allied health, nursing, public health and health economics, health promotion, and business.

Addressing key skills

During consultation with the sector, Kewley says aged care organisations and representatives from government and advocacy groups were asked to identify the skills required for the aged care worker of the future.

“Critical thinking was one of five foundation attitudes industry experts identified as essential in a worker holding qualifications at the associate degree level,” he says.

“Other foundation attitudes identified included the need to work ethically with ageing clients, to always advocate on behalf of a client, to deliver person-centred care and to communicate appropriately in a range of situations.

“To ensure these attitudes are addressed consistently, they were added as core components of all courses in the qualification.”

The associate degree also aims to provide opportunities for formal preparation and training as part of a care worker’s career progression. Currently, some workers find themselves taking on more significant leadership and management roles without formal training, says Kewley.

The degree combines online learning and intensive face-to-face teaching sessions.

Nursing leaders advance gerontological nursing

Elsewhere, a new initiative aims to pool expertise in gerontological nursing within universities to strengthen this area of nursing.

Leaders in gerontological nursing from nine universities have established an Australian consortium to build the profile and capacity of the speciality.

The group, established in May, is part of the US-based Hartford Centre of Gerontological Nursing Excellence, an organisation set up to support education, research and practice in the care of older people.

Since it began in 2000, the Hartford centre has increased the recruitment of students into geriatric nursing, developed expertise within nursing faculties and raised the profile and prestige of the field.

The Australian consortium is the second member to join the organisation outside of the US.

The collaboration between the nine Australian nursing schools will initially focus on building academic and teaching capacity in gerontological and psychogeriatric nursing. Over time, it aims to impact broader policy and practice.

Professor Elizabeth Beattie from Queensland University of Technology, a member of the collaboration, says the new initiative is an exciting development in geriatric nursing in Australia.

It aims to draw together the strengths and capacity of the individual nursing schools to advance the nursing specialty nationally and elevate the prominence of the care of older people in nursing qualifications, she tells AAA.

“By joining together, we hope in the long term to be able to influence curriculum in nursing schools and the ways the specific needs of Australia’s older people are actually put forward in undergraduate nursing programs.”

Beattie says it is critical that nursing graduates are equipped with the knowledge and skills to care for an ageing population across all healthcare settings.

“The whole of the intent of the Hartford Centre of Gerontological Nursing Excellence is to impact the optimum health and quality of life of older adults and we want to represent what is the gold standard of excellence in gerontological nursing and geropsychiatry.”

She hopes that over time the initiative will improve the recognition of the specialty and create new career and leadership opportunities for nurses working in the field.

“We are excited to see how this initiative will grow, and we look forward to seeing the care of older adults be given the social and healthcare attention that older Australians need and deserve.”

For more information on the US-based organisation to go

Consortium members from left: Dr Jane Phillips (UTS), Dr Ann Harrington (Flinders University) Dr Deirdre Fetherstonhaugh (La Trobe), Dr Chris Toye (Curtin University), Dr Andrew Robinson (University of Tasmania), Dr Yun-Hee Jeon (University of Sydney), Dr Wendy Moyle (Griffith University) and Dr Elizabeth Beattie (QUT). Missing: Dr Deb Parker (WSU).

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Tags: education, higher-education, university-of-newcastle, workforce,

8 thoughts on “Stepping up higher learning for the aged care workforce

  1. One of the unresolved issues with a lot of these new courses is there is no link to professional associations or recognition for ongoing professional development. None of them are recognised within existing professional streams such as nursing, Social Work, allied health. Consequently there is no recognition for improved pay or progression.
    It is not enough to just create a course and a new qualifcation. It has to be linked to or based within recognised awards or the graduates go on being paid at Cert 3/4 levels of pay.
    Increasingly the sector is demanding Bachelor level as a minimum or Masters/post graduate level as ideal. Will these associate levels be articulated in to current Bachelor courses or only have a quarter recognised via RPL?

  2. Working in the industry for over 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes and more and more courses/units at cert 3 and cert 4 levels. While more focus is being addressed by universities to provide professional advancement with higher education level qualifications, the workers are not being rewarded financially in the workplace to cover, time, effort and costs to achieve more than pay grades of cert 3. Even enrolled nurses are only paid at cert 3 level in most organisations as that is what is offered when recruiting staff. Cert 4 level workers are rarely even acknowledged or have the skills learnt in courses utilised in workplaces.

    Also very few RTO’s or universities will give RPL or RCC without requiring applicants to provide so much information and evidence that it forces individuals to enroll and pay for another piece of paper…. feeling like this is another money grab scheme around a growing industry.

  3. Sadly the comments above are true… the sector does not reward education whether self-managed or driven by universities with the right intent. My experience is that no matter how well qualified (and by this I mean current quals and moving towards postgrad) there is no correlation between the investment and its outcome. Work in appropriate areas is a struggle. The sector does not have a professional association nor an advocacy body for care/community workers. The shift towards CDC in aged care and the increasing consumer-driven service will not benefit qualified workers. Given a choice in a package of care between two people where one is more qualified than the other, it is likely that choice will be financial and not benefit the qualified worker.

  4. I think it is sad that the focus of what graduates of both these important programs is in on what they will be paid.
    The exciting piece is that the sector is changing dramatically and new models of service are already popping up and there is much more disruption to come. We need innovative thinkers and there is great opportunity in a learning environment to bring forth new thinking or challenge old thinking. I personally have been involved in the discussions at UoN and am pleased that one of my team has applied to join the program and is very excited about the opportunities ahead.
    As for pay scales and awards …well there wasnt a pay rate for university RN’s 25 years ago, but look what happened once those programs got going. If we wait for a pay scale to emerge before we innovate we will uninnovate ourselves out of the sector all together.
    If the graduates of these programs dont immediately find the role they are looking for with an appropriately negotiated or preset pay rate, they will do what every other university graduate does…find an alternative position until they find the dream job.
    You only have to speak to the thousands of University graduates driving Taxis or working in Hospitality to know that not every graduate of every program will get a gig. But the Aged Care demographic tells me a different story …there will be more and more opportunites for the well prepared applicant, so why not try something new and be prepared to be part of the solution rather than staying unhappy with the current scenarios. I dont underestimate the challenges around new offerings, call me niave…but we do need them and I am confident that with goodwill and perseverance we will solve whatever issues arise.
    So from my perspective I say…”Bring it On”

  5. Interesting discussion, I recently graduated with a Bachelor of Dementia Care with UTas. I have applied for a couple of positions with no success at this stage. The positions I want to apply for ask for an organisation registration, as pointed out above. It would be great to see the formation of a peak aged/dementia care association.

    For me in 2017 I’m looking at a Masters or more industry experience before applying for more positions.

  6. Pay rate is definitely relevant. However, i have seen recently, new and emerging roles in both RAC and HACC which could be seen as that long awaiting ‘career-pathway’ for non clinical staff.
    Bigger question…regardless what the future educational opportunities may be and, whilst we know the jobs will be there… where will we find the people to fill them???

  7. I too am studying for a Bachelor Degree in Dementia care at University of Tasmania, having already a Cert III. Currently it is fully funded which is great to encourage further education from within the aged care industry and the community. The sad thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a pathway to working within the industry.
    However any further training and education throughout our communities can only benefit the aged care industry as a whole and the community that it cares for. With more education about the value of the elderly and their ongoing importance in our community I feel the people will be there to fill the jobs, but it will depend on remuneration policy and the priority shown by our government as a whole and not just their rhetoric. People will have to go to the industry where the employment is offered, but rather it be through recognising the need and value in it, than be shoved from the dole queue and forced into it reluctantly, as that is not what our aged folk need to look after them.

  8. I think the earlier comment re there not being a pay rate for tertiary prepared RNs 25 years ago is inaccurate (while contested in various ways, there was a long standing nursing tradition with associated awards and career prospects for these graduates) and in any event is not a useful parallel for the current situation for care workers. I wouldn’t for a moment diminish the importance of education for these workers and the imperative to value their labour and its purpose, but industrial issues (though unpopular to talk about in a post-unionised era) are real and pressing. Our current preoccupation with models of care needs to be more than the current fiddling around the edges and taking refuge in ‘leadership’, while the foundation of the workforce remains chronically undervalued and under-remunerated. This workforce status is directly proportional to the lack of value we attribute to their aged, chronically ill, and increasingly cognitively impaired clients. Doing more with less will ultimately unravel, however ‘organised’ and ‘managed’ the care; that is the future disruption we face.

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