The severe workforce shortages facing community aged care providers in rural Australia demand urgent attention, new research highlights.
Interviews with rural services managers from NSW described the severity of current and projected staffing shortages in rural areas and the looming crisis awaiting the long-term sustainability of services if the distinct workforce issues in community care are left unaddressed.
Rural managers said they had significant difficulties recruiting and retaining new workers, particularly young people, due to variable quality in their training and skills, low pay, inconsistent hours and few career pathways.
The perceived negative image of aged care work also undermined recruitment efforts, said the study’s lead author Professor Jeni Warburton from La Trobe University.
If young people did have an interest in aged care, they tended to find work in residential aged care due to the more reliable work patterns and the team-oriented environment, she told Community Care Review.
The isolation of travelling long distances alone and the unpredictability of working in people’s homes contributed to high staff turnover in community-based care.
“Community aged care staff are paid poorly and have inconsistent shifts, so it is hard to maintain an income. Several managers said a person could earn more working in Woolies stacking shelves,” said Professor Warburton.
Managers said an inability to recruit younger people into community aged care had encouraged an over-reliance on older, mostly female workers. However, employers recognised that with an ageing workforce, continuing to rely on mature-age workers was not a long-term, sustainable solution.
Professor Warburton said there needed to be a concerted campaign from government, industry and training providers to challenge the negative attitudes attached to aged care work in the community.
In the discussion about aged care workforce planning and policy, Professor Warburton said rural issues were not well thought through.
“I don’t think in general we think enough about rural. We have a significant ageing population in rural areas and yet we’re not addressing the needs in these areas, particularly in relation to workforce.”
Broadening workforce skills
The shift to community aged care away from residential is also placing unprecedented pressure on the community aged care sector to broaden the skills base of its workforce to be competent in areas such as dementia, falls prevention and chronic disease management, said Professor Warburton.
To meet the need for skilled staff, providers described relying on brokered services.
“These are huge issues to address and there’s no silver bullet,” she said.
The research project was funded by the IRT Foundation and conducted in partnership with Riverina Institute of TAFE.
Professor Warburton will present the study’s research findings at the AAG National Conference in Alice Springs on 4-6 November.
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