‘Something needs to change’

PROFILE: Acorn Network founder and managing director Samantha Bowen wants to promote aged care as a rewarding career path for young people.

Samantha Bowen
Samantha Bowen

PROFILE: Acorn Network founder and managing director Samantha Bowen wants to promote aged care as a rewarding career path for young people.

Samantha Bowen, 29, was the only student in her postgraduate occupational therapy course who wanted to get into aged care after graduation.

Bowen admits that aged care wasn’t something she had initially considered, but she always felt drawn towards healthcare and helping others. After school, she did a sports science degree and then later joined the navy. Three years later she returned to Perth and, still interested in healthcare, began an OT degree with plans to go into a “cushy” private practice role. However, after volunteering and working in aged care facilities, she realised aged care was an area where she could make a difference.

“I really loved working with and talking to older people ­­­­­­­­– just understanding what it was that they wanted and how we could best support them. I absolutely loved having that perspective,” she tells Australian Ageing Agenda. “You’re giving back and it’s also giving to you; you can see the difference you’re making.”

Bowen says that most of the time it’s only when students do a placement or fall into an aged care after graduating that they realise the industry is a rewarding place to work.

“Something needs to change. They need to stop falling into it, they need to start pursuing it,” says Bowen.

Reducing the roadblocks

Raising the profile of aged care as an innovative and rewarding sector for graduates is one of Bowen’s plans for the Acorn Network, which she established in 2013 with the aims to support Generation Y workers and promote age diversity in the sector.

“One of the challenges is that young people don’t see other young people succeeding and excelling in the sector. There are awards within aged care for young people but we’re not going to universities and TAFEs and promoting these people,” she says.

The idea for the Acorn Network came about after Bowen attended the Emerging Young Leaders on Aged Care and Community Boards program with other interested young people (read AAA’s previous feature on the program).

“None of us had met each other before. We were all so passionate, but there was just nothing outside of the program that would help bring us together,” says Bowen.

To address the issue, Bowen, with assistance of another participant on the program, started the Acorn Network as a community for young aged care workers on the social platform LinkedIn. Within three months, it grew to 200 members.

Bowen quickly realised more could be done, and began to push engagement beyond online. Acorn is now her main focus and her time is devoted to developing strategies to help reduce roadblocks for young people in the industry and help providers better understand Generation Y. She is currently offering mentoring for providers and planning a workshop for young people to develop managerial skills.

Bowen, who also volunteers with the Australia Association of Gerontology WA and the Future Health Leaders Council, believes young people will be key in helping the sector innovate and says it’s a shame that their different perspectives are not regularly included on committees and boards.

“I was talking to an aged care community organisation and they don’t actively recruit anyone under the age of 45,” she says. “They think young people are inexperienced, they’re not loyal and they’re unreliable.”

Feeling connected

Challenging these perceptions is something Bowen is still working on, but she has seen positive interest so far. In July, she spoke at the Aged Care Leaders Symposium on how the industry can engage young leaders and also ran a networking event for young professionals, with support from Mirus Australia and the Aged Care Channel. For Bowen, the networking event was a highlight of the work she has done so far and a thrill to see her vision come to life.

“Everyone just talked and connected ­­­­­­­­– talked about why they were passionate about the sector, where they wanted to be in the next couple of years, and shared stories around generational issues in the workplace – people not understanding their point of view, people being challenged by their ambitions or just about being the baby in the office, even though they’re 30.”

When fewer than one in five aged care workers are under 35 and the average industry age 48, Bowen sees events like this as fundamental to support younger workers to feel connected and engaged with the industry.

Bowen is excited for a future where aged care’s workforce is truly multi-generational and hopes the Acorn network can work with the sector to both challenge and support it in this process.

“Everyone can see a lot of challenges on the horizon. Young people generally have a more optimistic view of them and are able to think outside the box, whereas, if you have been an organisation for a long period of time, you’re more likely to continue to approach a problem in the same way,” she says.

Want to have your say on this story? Comment below. Send us your news and tip-offs to editorial@australianageingagenda.com.au 

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Tags: Acorn Network, aged-care-channel, Australia Association of Gerontology, Emerging Young Leaders on Aged Care and Community Boards, Future Health Leaders Council, Samantha Bowen,

5 thoughts on “‘Something needs to change’

  1. …..I am living with early Onset Dementia at Bribie Island, Queensland, and seeing how the carers work and what they do, I have nothing but praise for them all……..and soon I think they will want some caring for also !!!!……
    Tony Hogben, Bribie Island………www.adbi.com.au….

  2. I am close to retirement age (working until I am 70+) and I despair about living in a retirement home. I hate to think that everyone about me is old and living in a monoculture. As I do in my present life and community want and need interaction with young people. Young people are what keeps me young. I would love to see more young people involved and include their innovative ideas. The current ideas are outdated and frankly scary! Congratulations Samantha on your initiative. I wish you all the best as you are investing in my future as an older person.

  3. Offer better wages and training and career paths and then you’ll attract younger people with much broader backgrounds instead of uneducated woman and migrants. Not saying that these groups can’t do the job and do it well, but some of them cant and it leaves a smaller breadth of workers to choose from. Its and industry full of people who are just desperate for money, get paid poorly, treated badly from people and organisations who are more concerned about making money that looking after the residents, which I don’t understand as most of grow old and we don’t all have access to an EU passport like me where euthanasia is legal in some places.

  4. I agree with lyndell for foreigners its easy to get a job in aged care .i was a assistant nurse started 1994 im anglo australian and got bullyed by islander workers been assulted in the bathrooms ,bullyed reported to matron and all she could say was if you two dont get on with it i will sack you both , wasnt interested to look at my bruises or do anything about it i was devastated and realized it wasnt a safe environment for me to work in . If you want to contact me i would gladly enform you about what i think i havent worked in age care since 2008 my health deteriated

  5. At our college we are constantly pushing our passion for the recruitment of more younger people to enter the aged care and community care sectors.

    Unfortunately there are numerous hurdles to take on.

    One being the poor funding available for students to receive the training from a quality college and on a very big course to undertake.

    Two being the lack of placements available as the services are reluctant to take care worker students for the compulsory 120 hours

    Three being the workplace conditions that are the reality of providing the services in care

    Four is the low pay and conconditions to do what is an extremely difficult and challenging job in our society on the best of days

    Young Australians have higher expectations for work and pay and conditions. If the industry can not meet them we will struggle to find those that really care and those that can make a difference.

    You cant give person centered care without person centered staff

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