Australia’s population is ageing. With developments in hechnology, medicine and nutrition – people are living longer.

And as this ageing population grows, it not only creates a greater need for more aged care services, but also a growth in employment opportunities.

Due to the changes in service delivery models and individualised home care services, there are challenges that need to be met with new strategies that ensure the provision of quality care.

This means there is more pressure on the aged care workforce to not only meet the growing number of residents, but to also have the specialised skills needed to meet complex health conditions that elderly residents live with.

The quality of care our elders receives is almost always directly related to the quality of the aged care staff caring for them. It is essential that carers are knowledgeable and prepared for their responsibility of caring for the country’s ageing.

Staff knowledge and skills

It’s become a problem in the aged care industry that many newly hired staff lack the basic skills that are required of their job..

Personal care attendants (PCA’s) make up more than 60 per cent of the aged care workforce. Though many aged care staff are good at their jobs, some don’t have the training in feeding and bathing.

One Employment Department survey found that one in eight aged care employers said that training graduates had “insufficient experience, inadequate communication or teamwork skills’’.

The problem seems to lie in the short courses that are being offered. Some workers are getting their Certificate III in a mere 6 weeks.

Last November, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) revealed that one in four aged care trainers has failed audits in the past three years.

Some of the short courses have student attendance as optional except for one mandatory first aid course, and instead, have the trainers give students workbooks to complete.

These courses lack in practical training.

It is clear that the improvement of the quality of staff begins with the training organisations – if there are better courses with stricter standards and more practical coursework, there will be better graduates.

Ageing workforce

There are more elderly people needing care, and yet not enough carers and aged care workers to meet the demand.

The workforce is ageing: the average residential aged care employee is 46 years of age and for home care it’s 52 years of age.

So what happens when this ageing workforce hit retirement age? Will there be enough staff to not only make up for the current number, but to also increase the staff workforce?

It has been estimated that the aged care workforce will need to grow from around 366,000 to 980,000 by 2050 to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of older Australians accessing aged care services.

With no nationally agreed standards, it can be rather difficult to analyse the composition of the current workforce, and how that workforce may need to develop and adjust to meet future needs.

However, it has been suggested that the aged care workforce will need to grow by about 2 per cent annually, or triple from its current size, for the next 30 or so years to meet demand, and that is not taking into account any technological advances or innovations to the service delivery models.

But in growing the workforce, the priority needs to remain focused on creating a strong foundation of training and knowledge.

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Complexity of residents in care

Though people are living longer, that doesn’t necessarily mean the health conditions of older people is improving.

Many aged care residents have a number of overlapping medical conditions that require specific treatment and care plans.

Research from Macquarie University found that 85% of aged care residents were on five or more medication, and 45% are on 10 or more different medications. In extreme scenarios, about 4% are on more than 20 medications.

Conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease are frequent in aged care homes, and if staff do know how to care for people with these health issues then they could actually be doing them more harm than good.

As older people in aged care have more complex and greater needs than those in the general community – which is predicted that this will increase in the future – more training is needed.

Well-equipped aged care staff who are knowledgeable and understand the needs of these residents are essential with the ageing population as the number of residents continues to rise, as well as the complex needs and medical regimes.

Mandatory registration

Currently, personal care attendants employed at residential facilities and community care are not registered in any way – so how can we ensure a quality workforce?

A registration system would help employers maintain standards and ensure the quality of the training sector and qualifications. It would also create greater individual responsibility for professional development.

A registration for aged care workers is a step forward in improving the quality of care offered in aged care. A similar registration already exists for nurses with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.

Nurses are obligated to meet a minimum of 20 hours of continuing professional development. Registered nurses are required to complete a three-year bachelor degree at university and enrolled nurses complete an 18-month diploma – a stark difference to the minimum training requirements of personal care attendants.

With no professional body, there is nowhere for personal care workers to be reported to if there are issues with the quality of service, such as being unsafe or being a risk to the people they care for. There is currently no regulatory body for personal carers. Nurses, in contrast, have the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.

In the past few years there has been a high demand for aged care staff, which is why so many poorly trained graduates have been able to secure a job.

At Chisholm Institute, students develop extensive skills and knowledge in areas such as dementia care, palliative care, working with carers and families, promoting independence and wellbeing and providing individualised support and care to older people.

The Certificate III in Individual Support (CHC33015) course is delivered over a six month period via face-to-face classes and weekly practical sessions in a purpose built workplace simulation facility.

Students are provided with ample opportunity to develop their communication, teamwork and practical skills working with simulated situations relevant to their future working environment.

All students apply the skills they have developed on campus into real-life practice during their 150 hours practical placement in a residential care facility under the supervision of an experienced care worker.

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