Australia isn’t doing enough to attract, train and retain aged care workers, an influential think tank has warned.
At least 110,000 extra staff are needed within the next decade or families will face an untenable aged care burden, according to a report issued on Tuesday.
Aged care staff currently care for more than 1.3 million Australians, both at home and in residential care, and face low wages and inconsistent working hours.
The sector’s business model also relies on thousands of well-meaning volunteers.
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) report said an extra 17,000 personal care assistants, nurses and allied health staff are needed each year just to meet basic standards of care.
CEDA chief economist Jarrod Ball warns the worker shortage will balloon to 400,000 by 2050 without dramatic federal government action.
Nearly 20 per cent of the population is expected to be aged over 65 in a decade, up from about 16 per cent, so demand for care will only keep growing.
“This requires a massive commitment from the Federal Government, the kind we haven’t seen to date,” Ball said.
Community expectations are high for genuine reform of the sector after the aged care royal commission made almost 150 recommendations.
The think tank’s WA-based senior economist Cassandra Winzar, the report’s author, said improving working conditions must be the first step.
The report backs federal spending on higher wages, more training and new dedicated migration programs to attract people into the sector.
The current workforce is 90 per cent female with a median age of 46. Almost a third were born overseas and about 13 per cent have no qualifications.
Investment in new technology to reduce time spent on filling out forms and equipment to ease the physical burden on staff is also recommended.
Certificate III should be a mandatory minimum qualification for personal-care workers and state governments should fully refund fees after graduates have worked in the sector for two years, the report said.
Ongoing professional training should be covered during their paid working hours.
The Federal Government has committed to raising the minimum daily staff time per resident to 200 minutes.
But Winzar said this will only achieve the bare minimum of acceptable care by global standards.
“If change does not occur now, worker shortages will worsen even as the demand for care keeps growing,” she said.
The report said the aged care royal commission made many good recommendations for reforming the sector but did not have enough focus on practical ways to increase the workforce.