Australian aged care is in crisis with a shortfall of 35,000 workers this year alone

Australia’s aged care crisis is worse than expected with the sector facing a shortfall of around 35,000 direct aged care workers this year alone, according to a new report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

The report, Duty of care: Aged care sector in crisis, finds the annual staff shortage has doubled in less than a year – escalating from 17,000 to 35,000 due to a combination of challenging pandemic driven circumstances and a lack of action by governments. (Download the report in PDF here – 16mg.)

“If workforce shortages at this level continue, we will not have enough workers to meet the basic standards of care recommended by the Royal Commission,” says CEDA Senior Economist and report author Cassandra Winzar.

“Miniscule levels of migration and increased levels of attrition in the sector, estimated to be around 65,000 workers a year, have exacerbated existing shortages. The aged care workforce was already under significant pressure with staff shortages, low pay, poor working conditions and increased negative attention through the Royal Commission.

“Over the past year, COVID-19 has amplified these pressures. Aged care has been at the centre of many COVID-19 outbreaks, resulting in even more difficult working conditions and staff themselves becoming sick. For a workforce that was already burnt out prior to COVID-19, this has been the breaking point for many. During a time where unemployment is low, many have chosen to leave the sector.”

The new Albanese government has made commitments towards increasing the quality of aged care through including 24/7 registered nurses in residential aged care and longer mandated care time.

“Yet these commitments will be difficult to achieve without a turnaround in the workforce numbers,” says Ms Winzar.

“Importantly, meeting the goal of an extra 35,000 workers will only get Australian aged care to basic levels of care. Providing care levels at international best practice standard would require a further increase in the workforce. Filling this shortfall will not be achieved without determined and consistent effort which must start now.”

“The latest evidence suggests we are tracking towards our worst-case scenarios,” the report says.

The report updates the workforce projections of CEDA’s Duty of Care report released in August 2021 with the latest information and industry consultation. Duty of Care made 18 recommendations to help stem the tide of workers leaving and to attract more staff to the sector.

Duty of Care: Aged care sector in crisis advocates that priority must be given to actions that will boost the workforce in the short term, while continuing to improve long-term outcomes. This includes:

  • Unions, employers and the Federal Government should collaborate to increase award wages in the sector through the Fair Work Commission’s work value case;
  • Personal-care workers should be recruited directly by adding them to the temporary or permanent skilled-migration lists, or by introducing a new ‘essential skills’ visa; and
  • Industry and governments should develop low-cost retraining options for those returning to the industry to boost skills and attract workers.

CCA comment: Australian adult and community education (ACE) providers excel in aged care training, as they:

  • Constitute an important part of the nation’s aged care training infrastructure, training 23% of NSW, 19% of VIC (and 13% nationally) of government-funded vocational education and training (VET) aged care students, a total of 8,435 students in these qualifications in 2019 (NCVER 2020).
  • Specialise in delivering the Certificate III Individual Support, which is the most popular training package for ACE provider students nationally, with more than one-third of students enrolled, with almost every CCA member offering the qualification.
  • Over-perform in engaging vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in education and training programs – an essential outreach function to sustain the desperately needed expansion of Australia’s aged care workforce.

“ACE organisations have an important role to play in Australian aged care workforce training,” said CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut.

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