A new large-scale, longitudinal research project is providing an unprecedented insight into the perspective of aged care workers across the country.
Louise O’Neill, chief executive officer of the ACWIC, tells Aged Care News that it is the most comprehensive survey of aged care workers to date.
“The Department of Health undertook the 2020 Aged Care Census, but that didn’t include any data collected directly from the workforce itself, and the 2016 National Aged Care Workforce Survey… contained data from workers, but that was a total of 11,192 workers at that time.
“The Narrative… because it’s longitudinal, it gives you 20 questions that people have answered over that time: it tells a story.”
And it is a story that paints a picture of a uniquely altruistic workforce.
Whilst all healthcare workers are heralded as some of the most caring members of society at large, aged care workers list ‘resident/client interaction’ as their primary motivation for working in the industry at a higher rate than all other healthcare roles.
In contrast, other healthcare workers consistently rank ‘good location, good reputation, job security and/or good opportunities’ over the value of working with consumers.
This unique character may be subject to change, however, as the average age of aged care workers is consistently decreasing, year on year.
“Altruism is still important, but it’s changing,” O’Neill says.
“What you’re seeing now is that workers are reporting a number of things that are important to them, like their career, like their job opportunities, security of being in the workforce.”
O’Neill adds that the shifting age demographic in the workforce is a positive sign, allaying immediate fears about workforce shortages.
“There is this ageing population of workers… which we always feared would happen, and we feared that we wouldn’t have these younger workers coming in to fill the void.
“But it turns out that we do have younger people coming in – so I think the sector itself is doing something right in terms of attracting younger workers.”
The desperate need to retain this young body of workers, and to attract the extra 110,000 workers needed over the next decade to sustain the industry, may provide the necessary pressure for the industry to bridge the pay gap between aged care workers and their counterparts in other care sectors, such as disability support work.
Whilst the narrative showed that across the whole ten-year span, retirement was the most common reason for workers leaving the industry, low pay was the top reason between 2016-2019.
“We need to attract more people; we know that that we don’t have enough,” O’Neill says.
She says this body of work will complement the final-stage development of the ACWIC’s Voluntary Industry Code of practice for the aged care industry.
“We’ve got our first Community of Practice happening tomorrow with provider organisations who’ve pledged to it and also those other organisations that have made statements of support.”
“We would like to see it as some sort of best practice model… a key piece of work for the sector to drive its own quality.”
In response to Aged Care News’ question of whether a voluntary code would be sufficient, O’Neill says that encouraging self-regulation is an important step in establishing a ‘healthy aged care industry’.
“The royal commission definitely put on everyone’s agenda that quality care is the pinnacle of this system.
“We must strive for that, and the sector does need to show that it can strive for that independently of government as well.”
“It is time for industry to say, ‘OK, what can we do here that’s going to show that we are invested in quality services and are really listening to our older people and listening to our workforce’.”
AWCIC’s Workforce Narrative was cultivated from the Aged Care Census Database, released by BPA Analytics in November 2020.
Jacqui Parle, co-owner of BPA Analytics, tells Aged Care News that the longitudinal scope of the dataset was the result of the company’s forward-thinking vision, predicting a key role for broad, longitudinal data-sets in shaping public policy.
“Back when we started BPA in 1992, benchmarking was not a big thing, not many people knew about it,” she says.
“We are very happy to make this information available at an industry level and produce insights that others can use and learn from.”
The BPA Analytics database, underscoring the ACWIC Workforce Narrative, is a broad representation of aged care providers around the country, documenting the opinions of workers from private aged care providers, not-for-profit and for-profit providers, religious-based aged care providers, and public sector aged care providers.
The Aged Care Workforce Industry Council is a registered charity that is committed to creating a better, more sustainable aged care system across Australia.
The organisation worked alongside the federal health department to release a national Australian aged care workforce strategy in June 2018, which outlined 14 areas for action to support Australia’s aged care workforce.