There have been a number of strategies employed to attract and retain younger workers to the aged care sector with varying degrees of success.

“Everybody complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it!”

Mark Twain repeated this witticism and is often (incorrectly) attributed its original authorship.

I was reflecting on it recently at a function with a number of aged care CEOs and HR Managers.

The topic was the aged care workforce and the challenges of attracting, recruiting and retaining staff to meet the enormous future growth in numbers and the increasingly sophisticated expectations of care recipients. It’s certainly not a new topic.

The Productivity Commission, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Department of Health and Ageing, Delloite, NAB – you name it; virtually every major research paper in the last 15 years notes workforce as a key consideration for the viability of the sector.

In 2005, a major private sector provider (one of the first to self insure staff for workplace injury) conducted a survey of it’s 1300 aged care staff and created the following profile. The “average” (mode) staff member was female, aged 44 with literacy and numeracy skills equivalent to Year 9 and more likely to be a victim of domestic violence than the reported frequency in the general population at the time.

Interestingly, courtesy of the insights obtained through the establishment of a self- insurance unit, this workforce had a higher rate of injury than other sectors and unsurprisingly, primarily injuries were related to mobility of care recipients. The research notes that at a time when unprecedented and sustained growth in employees is required, the workforce in aged care is currently growing older and therefore more prone to injury – a trend substantiated by even the most cursory review of workers compensation premiums across different industries.

So aged care needs to attract younger workers, more physically suited to the tasks involved in delivering care and crucially, accepting of different modes of care provision and service refinement for the more sophisticated, discerning and demanding care recipients of the future.

The workforce is overwhelmingly female – +90%. It’s likely that will continue into the future; certainly, based on 20 years experience in the sector, care recipients and their representatives, express a preference for female care workers. Given the physically sensitive nature of some of the interventions in aged care, that’s not surprising. Incidentally, care recipients also routinely decry high staff turnover and the frequent use of casual staff to fill gaps in rosters – integral to the nature of the relationship are high levels of trust and familiarity.

So we’ve identified that the weather is topical, but who’s going to do something about it? There’s no lack of recognition or commitment; it’s just the lack of obvious solutions.

There have been a number of strategies employed to attract and retain younger workers to the aged care sector with varying degrees of success.

One of the most difficult challenges is demonstrating with a reasonable degree of integrity, the economic payoff. It was refreshing therefore to come across an organisation recently that has put in the time and effort into doing precisely this. An economic case has been diligently constructed to demonstrate that modern, responsive parental policies including well targeted support programs for women before and following the birth of a child, to remain attached and committed to their workplace, translates to an improved bottom line. As in a number – not a statement of principle.

It was an eye-opener for someone who had negotiated numerous EBA’s with aged care workforces which consistently rated parental leave and support low in the hierarchy of claims (not surprising given their average age). But for a future, younger workforce? This might be exactly the type of strategy we need to consider.

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