Australia’s ACE Sector Ready to Assist Growth in Aged Care Workforce

Australia’s adult and community education (ACE) providers are poised and ready to work with Commonwealth and state governments to help expand and train new workers.

Budget Aged Care Workforce Commitment

This week’s Commonwealth Budget promised a $652 million workforce strategy that includes upskilling of the existing workforce, and subsidised training for 33,800 new aged care workers at Certificate III level through an expanded JobTrainer. The home care workforce will also expand by 18,000 new workers, funded by an extra $91.8 million.

The Budget papers read: “In response to the Aged Care Royal Commission, the Australian Government is investing $338.5 million over three years to grow, train and upskill the aged care workforce to drive improvements to the safety and quality of care experienced by senior Australians. The aged care workforce is central to the quality of aged care in Australia.”

“Personal care workers already working within the aged care sector will also be encouraged to have their experience recognised, increase their skills and fill any knowledge gaps through undertaking the Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing) and other training and professional development opportunities.”

Unfortunately, the Government has only said it will give “further consideration” at this stage to an Aged Care Royal Commission recommendation for mandatory minimum qualifications for personal care workers.

The budget commits $17.7 billion in new funds over the next five years to aged care, although the Grattan Institute and others have estimated the costs of implementing the Royal Commission recommendations at around $10 billion per annum – more like $50 billion.

One Million Workers by 2050

It is anticipated that Australia will need one million workers by 2050 to service 8.5 million older Australians (see graphic below from the Australian Financial Review). “This is a massive staffing increase,” said Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA).

 (image source: Australian Financial Review)

Australian Adult and Community Education (ACE) Providers

Almost every CCA member has the Certificate III Individual Support (Ageing) “on scope” for training. Nationally, Australia’s ACE sector plays an extremely important role in training of aged care workers: ACE providers train 13% of government-funded care (Individual Support) learners and 10% of all care students (2019 enrolments). Government-funded care learner percentages rise to a high of 23% in NSW and 19% in Victoria.

“This is particularly important, given the Budget announcement of an additional 33,800 aged care workers to be trained with government subsidies through JobTrainer. To make this training roll-out a success, ACE providers need to play a major part. ACE providers also play a crucial role in training disadvantaged learners, including people with disabilities, Indigenous Australians, residents of regional and rural areas, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds,” said Dr Perlgut.

Read CCA’s overall analysis of the Commonwealth Budget.

CCA’s National ACE Summit

CCA’s National 2021 ACE Summit – in Sydney and online, 29 June 2021 – will broaden the knowledge of the national ACE sector, and showcase its community-based, innovative programs and pathways that can help governments succeed in meeting Australia’s economic, employment and social challenges in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic-induced recession. The aged care workforce will be one of the two focus areas of the Summit, along foundation skills.


Gender Equity

The increase in aged care funded training assists the Government in promoting gender equity through the Budget: “Women use more aged care services than men, largely because they live longer on average (about two-thirds of recipients of aged care services are women); the aged care workforce is dominated by female employees; and women tend to do more unpaid elder care than men and those carers stand to benefit from improved aged care services,” writes Matt Wade. It is less certain that the Budget will assist pay conditions for the female-dominated aged care workforce, which is essential to recruit and retain good staff.

The Government Has Not Gone Far Enough

“The Government has not gone far enough in supporting the workforce. It stopped short of guaranteeing that every staff member providing care for older Australians will be trained to a minimum Certificate III level, and that all residential aged-care facilities will have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day. The budget commitments appear to be a once-off, with workforce funding plummeting to only A$86.5 million in 2024-25, compared to A$293.3 million in 2022-23. And there is no commitment to lift carers’ wages,” write Stephen Duckett and Anika Stobart in The Conversation.

Ross Gittins (Sydney Morning Herald) also believes the Government should have gone further.

Migrants and the Aged Care Workforce

In 2016, 37.1% of Australia’s 295,324 front-line care workers were born overseas – a dramatic increase over 2011, and almost 90% were women. The migrant percentage is certainly higher now, but what happens when our migration has slowed to almost zero; where will this workforce expansion come from in the next few years?

Aged Care Staffing

“Inadequate staffing underpins many of the shortfalls in aged care and lies at the heart of providing quality care…. Funding went to training 33,800 new personal care workers over two years and increasing places in nursing homes, but this ignores the big issues of attracting and retaining workers in the notoriously low paid/overworked aged care sector. Registered nurses will receive minimal financial incentive to work in aged care, but for all the other new staff needed to raise the level of care the Government is relying on the demand will create supply argument.” – David Richardson and Eliza Littleton, The Australia Institute

“The budget does initiate some Reform of Aged Care along the lines of the recommendations of the Royal Commission – in spending about half the recommended annual amount, with some focus on better training and improved services, but no adjustment to the wages of carers and nurses, and no acceptance of the need for an Independent Commission to oversea the sector” – John Hewson, The Conversation

“Another example of the government’s sensitivity to social issues is the Aged Care package of $17.7billion, which addresses many issues raised by the Royal Commission on Australia’s aged-care system…. There is also little to address the low wages paid to the many women who work in Aged Care facilities (the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s data indicates that 83.3% of the ‘aged care residential services’ workforce is female).” – Elisabetta Magnani, The Conversation

“We now need to ensure the workforce is ready to absorb additional spending on aged care, child care and NDIS by making sure that sufficient workforce training is delivered, especially as it is not currently possible to turn on the migration ‘tap’ to address workforce shortages.” – Janine Dixon, The Conversation

“The government’s focus on supporting the service sectors such as aged care, childcare, mental health, and women’s health and safety; and the provision of JobTrainer funds to these areas are commendable. A big tick for that.” – Mala Raghavan, The Conversation

“$17.7 billion for aged care is aimed at lifting the quality of a sub-standard system. While a critical mission in its own right, the budget misses the opportunity to transform the aged care sector into a driver of growth. Along with childcare, disability care and mental health services, investments in care infrastructure facilitate stronger workforce involvement and the more efficient use of skills among those who currently give their time towards unpaid care (predominantly women). Plus these are labour-intensive industries which – with adequate resourcing – generate jobs. A more comprehensive budget response would make stronger provisions for not just expanding places, but also supporting the workforces responsible for delivering these care services. Modelling commissioned by the National Foundation for Australian Women quantifies the clear growth dividend, and shows that this form of public investment (which includes lifting the wages of care workers) largely pays for itself by activating higher workforce participation and hence tax revenue. Assessment by the Grattan Institute suggests that the 33,800 aged care training places earmarked in the budget is in sufficient to secure a pipeline of qualified staff. – Leonora Risse, The Conversation

“The support for aged care is good news, even though the planned investment only partly fills the gap left by years of underinvestment, particularly in relation to staff training.” –  Fabrizio Carmignani, The Conversation

“The budget did provide important new expenditure in two social areas, aged care and disability support although there is some doubt about whether it has provided the framework for that spending to be effective, especially as regards workforce” – Margaret Nowak, The Conversation

Privatisation of Aged Care

“The budget provided resources for many of the areas needing reform, e.g. aged care, but other than providing more funds did not propose reforms that would address the underlying structural problems. This is very much the case in aged care where the privatisation of the sector has led to rorting by some providers and where the low pay of aged care workers results in low quality care. The budget increases spending on aged care but doesn’t address any of these underlying issues. The increased funds may just increase the attractiveness of the sector to those whose interest is profit rather than care.” – Lisa Cameron, The Conversation

Aged Care Workforce Conditions

“I’m not sure what side I am on when it comes to the voodoo magic in the Government’s response to the Aged Care Royal Commission and its flow on to the VET sector. Extra training places is a good thing, but just how are these being designed to respond to the findings of the Commission, which in short order found the workforce is underpaid and under-trained.” – Craig Robertson, TAFE Directors Australia

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Featured image sourced from Aged and Community Services Australia


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