To transform aged care, workers need better wages and conditions
HESTA research reveals that, without an adequate national effort to improve wages and conditions for the aged-care workforce, Australia could miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build the skilled workforce needed to meet future demand. The research provides a unique insight into the workforce, with surveys taking a pre-COVID snapshot in May 2019 and during the pandemic in July 2020.
The ‘State of the Sector Aged Care Workforce Insights: COVID and Beyond’ report found that poor pay and a lack of career opportunities were causing people to want to leave the industry.
“Our research shows we must act now to improve wages and working conditions if we’re to attract the skilled and talented people needed to provide high-quality care for older Australians,” HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said.
“We have more than 200,000 members who work or have worked in aged care. Transforming the aged-care system must start with the people central to delivering these critical services and improving outcomes for older Australians.
“Improving the quality and sustainability of aged-care jobs will improve the financial future of our members working in the sector. A stronger aged-care system is also vital for our members and all working Australians who will directly rely on these services as they age.”
Blakey welcomed the government’s announcement in the Federal Budget of a $17.7 billion funding package for aged care but said there remains widespread industry concern that this may be inadequate to urgently address issues identified by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
“The Royal Commission warned of an understaffed, underpaid and poorly trained workforce. The research is clear — our members are telling us these are key concerns and would cause them to leave the industry or not recommend others work in the sector,” Blakey said.
“Without strong advocates from within aged care, we’ll struggle to attract the people needed to lift standards and meet the expected increase in demand from our ageing population.”
Blakey welcomed the announcement of aged-care funding in the Budget, including $216.7 million over three years to grow and upskill the workforce. She said the sector would also benefit from government-supported education and skills training, with an additional 33,800 vocational education and training courses for the sector and a $91.8 million commitment to train an additional 13,000 home care workers over the next two years.
Blakey said while there was a raft of measures designed to improve quality and safety — including mandating additional hours of care — it would be difficult to attract the necessary professionals needed to deliver better client outcomes without addressing low rates of pay.
“Despite the critical care our members provide in aged care, too many are in poorly paid and insecure employment that leaves them in a precarious financial position that was all too apparent during COVID,” she said, pointing to the fact that more than one-quarter of HESTA aged-care members (45,000+) made a claim to access their super early under the government’s scheme.
The research found aged-care professionals’ top three reasons for leaving their employers were a lack of skill development opportunities, wanting to try something different and low pay.
More than 4600 of HESTA’s members working in health and community services (HACS), including more than 1500 aged-care professionals, were asked about their work experiences, job intentions and if they’d recommend a career in the sector.
As part of the research, HESTA also spoke to employers, peak bodies and unions in the sector, who agreed unanimously that improving wages, working conditions, and skills and career development opportunities was essential to creating high-quality jobs in aged care.
When asked if workers felt appreciated and valued by their employer and the community, the answers revealed a highly polarised workforce. Between 32% and 38% of aged-care employees said they were unlikely to recommend their employers, leaders or career in the sector.
“This significant number of detractors of sector could create real difficulties in attracting the next generation of the aged-care workforce, which the Royal Commission said needed to grow by 70% by 2050 to maintain current staffing levels in the face of rising demand,” Blakey said.
Despite this, Blakey said the significant improvement in aged-care workforce sentiment across a range of measures in a challenging year may point to an opportunity for the sector and government.
“Our research shows aged-care professionals are feeling prouder to work in the sector and more connected to their employers and leaders. Workforce strategies implemented now could be particularly effective at attracting and retaining aged-care professionals,” she said.
“We can’t afford to waste this opportunity.”
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