Community care offers the kind of flexibility, support and job satisfaction many mature age workers seek in order to stay in the workforce or re-enter it. Marie Sansom looks at how this growth sector can deliver benefits for older workers and for their clients.
Trish Latimer has had a fair few jobs in her 78 years: governess, librarian, newsagent and banker, but her current job in health and aged care is the one she loves the most.
Latimer started with Mercy Health in Melbourne in 1996 and she provides nursing, personal care and a sympathetic ear to two clients nine hours a week.
“I love looking after my clients. They’re gorgeous,” Latimer says.
“I used to help my mother and I had her until she was 97. It gives me something just to interact with them.”
One of her clients is 64-year-old Erica who has muscular dystrophy. “She calls me her elder sister, which is lovely. I’ve never had a sister and she hasn’t either,” she says.
“We sit and talk about our lives, swap stories and talk about our childhoods.”
Latimer plans to keep going until she’s at least 80, “as long as my body will allow me”.
“I’m very lucky I can do it still. I don’t want to stop doing it. I’ll stick with it. I think it’s something I’m good at and I really do enjoy it.”
Mercy Health’s executive director of people, learning and culture Kate McCormack says mature aged workers are very important to the company.
The average age for health and aged care workers at Mercy is 52 and they speak more than 50 languages between them.
She says attracting and retaining a diverse workforce could address labour shortfalls, retain knowledge and expertise and reduce turnover, replacement costs and absenteeism. Flexible working programs also helped reduce sick leave and WorkCover claims.
Having a diverse labour pool also better reflects the communities and clients they serve, she says.
Mercy runs various programs to support its staff, including Stepping Stones, which encourages staff to step up, step down or step across, depending on what is going on in their lives.
“Male or female or whatever age, you can access all our flexible working programs at any stage. For example, if you’re studying you can step down or step across,” McCormack says.
“We say: don’t leave us if you feel like travelling around Australia in a caravan or going overseas. We will hold your job. We leave the door open for people to come back to us.
“We want to create a culture where employees feel comfortable having a conversation around flexibility, caring responsibilities and transition to retirement.”
Mercy also speaks to workers about planning their retirement and structuring their superannuation and the company won the award for age diversity in the workplace at the Australian Human Resources Institute Inclusion and Diversity Awards last year.
But McCormack admits the profession is still very female dominated.
“We are getting more [men] in personal care and that’s good for our male residents but it’s hard to attract them”.
One of those men is Bob Gage – Mercy’s oldest employee at 84 who made the move from accountant to carer in 2005.
Gage works up to 20 hours a week as a carer and has three regular clients. He says 95 per cent of his clients were younger than him and he loves every moment of his work.
“I’d always been interested in looking after people via the church and I thought I’ll have a go as a carer,” Gage says.
“I find that the work suits my temperament, I like looking after people and I get on with almost anybody, especially people my age. I also like the fact that its casual work.”
Community care could be the sector that helps deliver the government’s vision of Australians working until they’re 70.
Mike Field, project manager for the National Disability Association’s recruitment website Carer Careers, says community care was a “good career to change into” for older people because their life experience and skills were in demand.
He says a first aid certificate and driving licence were highly regarded but many companies did not ask for minimum qualifications, like a Certificate III in aged care, disability or community work, because they wanted to use their own training providers and to support staff through their training.
“It’s very much about the kind of person you are and what you bring to the role. All these soft skills are what mature aged people have in spades,” Field says.
He says it’s a job open to flexible hours, casual and part-time work where people experienced genuine job satisfaction. The sector also offers a wide range of roles where physical fitness and manual handling are not always a priority in the job.
“It’s certainly a collaborative workplace ideal for someone who’s a bit tired of the rat race and competitiveness. It’s a supportive industry where it’s all about teamwork and people.”
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