The demand for aged care workers is growing rapidly with the number of people requiring some form of aged care set to double in Australia by the year 2050. Back in 2010 the then Department of Health and Ageing estimated that the aged care workforce would need to increase between two and three times before 2050 in order to provide care to the growing number of aged care residents. A study by Adelaide University on the Attraction, Retention and Utilisation of the Aged Care Workforce published in April, 2018 conducted qualitative interviews with aged care workers that revealed three common key drivers that encourage attraction into the sector.
First, many current workers reported having a direct interest in aged care work. Their work was seen as being rewarding and offering opportunities to fulfil an interest in working with older people. In addition, many nurses considered that the sector provided challenging and diverse work including dementia and palliative care. For some workers aged care was seen as providing an initial stepping stone into a future career (often within the broader healthcare sector). The availability of work within the aged care sector was a second key driver of attraction, particularly for male workers, new hires and CALD workers who had experienced difficulties securing work in other chosen occupations. A third key driver centred on perceptions of the convenience and flexibility of aged care work; the working hours and shift patterns were seen as offering good work-life balance.
Conversely, factors which discouraged attraction into the aged care workforce were raised, with many workers expressing concerns that aged care work was seen in a poor light both within the general community and other health and care sectors and was widely perceived to be a low status job which offered poor rates of pay. The recent media exposure of poor practice within the aged care sector had added to these negative perceptions. In addition, aged care work was often viewed as lacking clinical and technical expertise and providing limited career pathways, which could hamper the attractiveness of the sector to nurses and nursing graduates. As a consequence of these factors, other health and care sectors were perceived to offer more attractive employment than aged care.
Addressing these perceptions, Melanie Mazzarolli, Regional Business Manager, Residential Services at Benetas states in a recent article –
“It seems to me, a significant barrier to the engagement of a robust, professional and sustainable workforce is the stigma of working in aged care. The recent announcement of the Royal Commission into aged care has resulted in the industry getting a lot of negative attention. And rightly so, when distressing examples of mistreatment and abuse are exposed. However what is not portrayed is the thousands of examples of outstanding care, warmth and connection between the carer and resident or customer.
For me with a nursing background, there is no other industry like aged care. Supporting a person’s journey to death is a privilege – much like the privilege of child birth. In aged care we are able to develop a strong bond over months or even years with those in our care which can rarely be matched in other professional nursing roles. For me, transitioning to the aged care workforce is not the end of a career, but the beginning. Almost everyone I have ever come across is here because they are as passionate about the care of older Australians.”