The author of new research on the aged care workforce says the sector should tap into COVID-19 migrants and local small businesses to provide a regional workforce solution and help people remain in the community for longer.

Lakshman Gunaratnam

Independent research by analysts Miles Morgan Australia finds “dire” workforce gaps in rural and regional Australia, predicting that in five years there will only be 1.9 workers in small rural towns for every Australia aged over 65, compared to 4.2 in metropolitan regions.

The report says as the proportion of people over 85 years old grows, service coverage through the residential aged care sector will shrink from the current six per cent of the population over 65 years old, to around four per cent,  meaning high-needs, complex clients will be in the community for longer.

It also says that between 2021 and 2025 more than half a million Australians are intending to retire, with half of the current aged care workforce in this age demographic:

The report shows the typical aged care workforce profile is predominantly female (78.4 per cent) and getting older (median age of 52).

Sole traders and small business, meanwhile have a greater proportion of men and younger median age of 42.

It says micro businesses in the aged care sector are typically younger, more diverse, happier and better paid. Consumers also report greater hours of care and more individualised service.

Beyond external migration

Miles Morgan CEO Lakshman Gunaratnam says it’s time to look beyond external migration to plug gaps in the regional workforce.

Local small businesses and sole traders – including younger regional Australians looking for work or COVID-19 ‘migrants to the bush’ – can offer a valuable solution to help older people in the bush remain at home longer, he says.

“Expecting external migration to be the sole saviour, covering growing shortfalls in the aged care workforce also won’t work,” Mr Gunaratnam said.

“Building the capacity of local people in regional communities is vital or we risk a race to the bottom in terms of care quality, pay and conditions.

 “In the end, if we don’t start thinking more broadly about the aged care workforce, and acknowledge and respect macro labour market trends in micro business growth, we are risking the health and happiness of older Australians.”

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