When Professor John Pollaers OAM fronted LASA’s Roadmap to Reform Virtual Forum on July 15, he had a message of warning for delegates.
“If we’re not careful, [Australia’s aged care sector] will look exactly like it does today in three years’ time – because we’re still waiting for somebody to come forward with the plan,” he said.
“We were waiting after the royal commission to hear what the Government had to say, now we’re waiting to see what the detail of that is and we’re having conversations around, is it going to get executed properly or isn’t it?”
Pollaers, who is chancellor of Swinburne University and founder of Leef Independent Living Solutions, believes the future for aged care, is now.
Using the A Matter of Care: Australia’s Aged Care Workforce Strategy report as a roadmap, Pollaers urged providers to sit down with their teams and start some conversations about what they can do now to address a range of key issues.
“Equally, when you look at the recommendations of the royal commission, there are many recommendations in there that you could sit down with your team and say, ‘right, if we look at this holistically, what are we doing? What aren’t we doing? What could we start doing? And I think you then start to find your way in,” he said.
“When we talk about leadership and we talk about culture, sometimes it becomes very academic and very abstract.
“The way you build leadership and the way you build culture is by doing things together.
“That’s what business is … really, the coming together of people with a common purpose, so define that purpose with very practical steps and actions and engage your employees in those solutions and you’ll definitely be on the right pathway.”
In an interview with LASA’s interim director for workforce and innovation Merlin Kong, Pollaers offered insights into benchmarking, which he says is one of the ‘big things’ that can be done in the sector.
“When I was in the consumer goods industry we did benchmarking across the sector, all companies participated and we were able to see how we were going on our customer service, on our supply chain, on our innovations etcetera, and be able to benchmark ourselves in a way that actually created a positive pathway for performance improvement.
“And I think that’s really something missing here that would make a big difference.”
Rather than waiting on Government, Pollaers suggested aged care providers begin their own benchmarking process, paying careful attention to what their frontline care workers have to say.
“The bottom line in any business I’ve been in, in any industry, is recognition that most often, the people who really understand where the breakdowns are and have ideas about how to fix them, is your workforce.
“The manufacturing community worked this out a long time ago, and that’s why at the beginning and end of each day, they get together in their manufacturing teams and say, ‘what worked? What didn’t work? What’s got to be fixed? Who’s got to take responsibility? And by when will it be resolved?”
Workforce training is another area which Pollaers says can be addressed right away.
“If you take the issue of training … right now it’s possible to go into a care workforce and start to credential people for the work and experience they’ve gained on the job – it’s called recognition of prior learning.
“And you might very well quickly find that your personal care workers that have one level of qualification, if you credential them, have actually advanced in their career and you can then be very clear on the gap that’s required to get that next level of learning and qualification landed.
“We don’t need to wait for some plan for re-educating the workforce to start to take on the objective of now building the skills in the workplace,” Pollaers said.
Funding is an obvious challenge faced by the aged care sector, however Pollaers says many businesses operate with resource constraints, it’s about being innovative, working with what you have and learning from others.
“… there are enough examples of companies who are sitting down and working this through, and putting themselves on that pathway that I think other businesses could just stop, have a look, and emulate.
“You don’t have to be creating new things. ‘Steal and reapply’ is an age-old maxim in the business community, so just steal the good ideas and apply them quickly,” he says.
When quizzed for ideas for addressing workforce attraction and retention within the sector, Pollaers said the bottom line was to start by talking positively about your business.
“And the best advert for your business and for recruitment are your people – your people opening up their networks and attracting people in,” he told delegates.
“So I think if you sit down, again as a group, and say ‘what are the things that are working that do attract people to our business?’, ‘how do we emphasise that in our recruitment?’
“‘Have we thought about what is different, why this would be a great work environment?’, and then work with your team to make sure those things are in place, because that’s your minimum promise, so that’s important.”
And during recruitment, Pollaers says it’s important to give some thought to the kind of career conversation you want to have with people.
“Are [they] coming in for a career? Is it a second role? What is the real purpose that sits behind the role and the opportunity, so you can weave that into the conversation, because many aren’t.
“So when you have that conversation with people who are coming in and start talking about career, you also need to make it clear that once you’ve been involved for a couple of years, maybe longer, these are the kinds of things you can be doing to advance and grow.
“…if you want to bring in young talent, then you’ve got to have a pathway.
“Or you’ve got to show them that for the next two or three years they’re going to learn something extraordinary that will enable them to go on and build their career somewhere else.”
Beyond recruitment, Pollaers says mentoring is important and checking in with staff three to six months after they begin work, to see how they are doing.
“If you want to reduce the churn then you’ve got to be doing those types of things,” he said.
On a broader industry level, Pollaers would like to see a commitment to putting advertising dollars into humanising the sector and emphasising the positive impact the sector can have on people’s lives.
“The last thing is, building the confidence of the industry to get to a breakdown quickly.
“If somebody lets the industry down, deal with it and deal with it in a public way, deal with it in a way that people get that the industry is serious about its reputation.
“Because we’ve got a remarkable amount of wonderful people who have invested their lives in making this work, we owe it to them also to ensure that we’re constantly aware of those things that are pulling down the industry’s reputation, and we do something very real about it.”