A new workforce: The aged care sector’s big opportunity

By Mark Harrison - June 23, 2020

In recent years, Australia’s ageing population and complex skills and competency requirements have placed increasing pressure on the aged sector. The Aged Care Royal Commission, in particular, revealed the gravity of issues in the sector, highlighting that workplace conditions and strong demands form part of the challenges the industry must overcome to evolve.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these workforce challenges, including attracting and retaining the right talent, low salaries and reliance on workers who are often overworked and under-skilled. The current environment represents an opportunity for the aged care sector to rethink its workforce and attract the talent it needs now and into the future.

A healthy, dynamic workforce is critical in aged care

People working in the aged care sector need a balance of technical and interpersonal skills, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this need more than ever before. Aged care facilities need effective systems and processes to ensure elderly people are kept safe and healthy, which means people working in the sector require extensive training, continuity and strong communication skills. These people must communicate effectively with a range of stakeholders, from residents to family members and volunteers. The current environment has made this process tenuous as workers navigate the complexities of engaging with anxious family members and a high-risk population.

Aged care workers need to have the interpersonal skills to navigate unhappy residents or family members while managing workload pressures and competing demands. Further, their infection control and hygiene skills must be advanced, both for the protection of residents and for their safety.

Aged care demand isn’t impacted by the economy

As a recession-proof industry, there’s an opportunity for the aged care sector to rebuild its workforce as the rest of the economy is disrupted. Unlike other sectors, the need for beds, rooms and home care for elderly citizens didn’t just disappear overnight with the outbreak of COVID-19, and it won’t disappear in the future.

Many of the soft customer-focused skills required in the aged care sector are core competencies in the retail, tourism and hospitality industries, which have been significantly disrupted by COVID-19. While these industries will rebuild in time, many of the interpersonal skills in high demand in aged care can be found in former retail, hospitality and tourism employees. These will people need re-skilling to understand the technical components of a role in the aged care sector. Still, with the right industry-wide strategy in place now, this could help to establish strong long-term foundations for the aged care sector to address its latent issues.

Attracting younger workers can help to build careers

The average age of workers in the retail, hospitality and tourism sector in Australia is the mid-20s, compared to  47 for aged and disabled carers. With many people in these sectors looking for work, the aged care sector could be the career opportunity these people need, and the fresh influx of talent required to transform aged care in Australia. Further, as a relatively young workforce, attracting people in their mid-20s to an industry can help them establish a long-term career path and pipeline to attract more young people to the industry as it evolves. By investing time into training, you can build a younger, diverse workforce for a growth industry, that won’t be significantly impacted by geopolitical uncertainty and weak economic conditions.

Of course, transforming the workforce for an entire industry can’t be done by individual aged care operators alone. Given the interest of both Government and industry in addressing the concerns raised by the Aged Care Royal Commission, motivation for this collaboration certainly exists. This type of collaboration has worked for other industries. For example, Geelong became a carbon fibre manufacturing hub following the closure of the Ford manufacturing plant in 2017, with collaboration between the Government, industry and tertiary institutions paving the path for this transformation.

Conclusion

While it can be difficult to see the opportunities available in challenging times, particularly in the aged care industry where the complexities are vast, this is also an opportunity for productive change. With the right strategy in place and collaboration across the Government and industry, the aged care sector will able to attract, develop and retain the workforce that it has needed for many years.

If you’d like to discuss how your organisation can begin building a workforce for the future as the economy recovers, contact one of our specialists below.


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