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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

ACWIC head buoyed by new Govt’s willingness to listen re: aged care crisis

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While the numbers do not paint a positive picture of the aged care workforce crisis, with the estimated annual shortfall of workers having doubled to more than 30,000, according to recent economic analysis, there are hopes that the new Federal Government is ready to listen and act.

Louise O’Neill, CEO of the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC), tells Aged Care News that she is feeling optimistic after a successful meeting with Ged Kearney, assistant minister for health and aged care, on Tuesday.

“It was great,” O’Neill recalls.

“And whilst it’s a shocking thing, it is heartening to hear that Government acknowledges that it’s a crisis and recognise that clearly they — and others — need to act.

“We’re keen to get more in the room with them more often and have stronger conversations about how we can actually help fix the problems.”

Louise O’Neill, CEO of the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council, says that the new Government has been open and receptive in consultations with her team thus far.

The new Government’s active role in the Fair Work Commission’s work value case is a positive sign according to O’Neill.

“If there is support for wage increases, that’s a big piece of the puzzle in fixing this workforce crisis in aged care,” she says.

O’Neill says that the ACWIC has also been working with the health and home affairs departments over the last year to advocate for an international pipeline of workers.

“I’m hoping that some of that work is going to come to fruition now… “[Kearney] definitely said there was work afoot around migration.”

However, she says that while migration is helpful, it does not eliminate the need for a number of foundational reforms needed to entice domestic workers into the industry.

“Migration is part of the solution … but there’s a lot we also need to do about our domestic workforce.

“It would be good to have a really strong conversation with Government, and a number of parties are on this going forward, to get together and really discuss what are the best ways, and most practical solutions, that we can come up with.

“It is a complex problem. You can’t just get a bunch of people and put them in these jobs.

“You need to find the right people, you need to tap into multiple segments of society to find them.

“You need to give the right incentives and promotion, and good training and support once they’re in the job.”

Collection of rich data sets, including that documenting workers’ own personal experiences in the industry, have been part of the ACWIC’s own approach.

In November 2021, the ACWIC released its Workforce Narrative, comprising survey data from 109,000 aged care workers, the biggest study of its kind to date.

The survey collected an array of data, ranging from the demographic features of aged care workers to the reasons they either enjoy working in the industry or the factors that are driving them to leave.

“I think that some of the issue for aged care is that we’ve never really understood it enough,” O’Neill says.

“If we had consistent data sets over the years that told us the story about what’s happening with our workers, I think that would’ve be very, very helpful in avoiding the situation we are in now.”

Following on from the Workforce Narrative, O’Neill says that the ACWIC is working on a job architecture plan, to map current and emerging career pathways in the sector.

“We will have a first report on this coming out on very shortly…

“If we can map those new jobs and understand what they are, make sure the right training is in place, and then map the career pathways that people can take… that starts to embed the industry as an industry that people might consider more because they can see opportunity to grow in the industry.

“I think that’s very important.”

Another factor O’Neill highlights is the way the current pension system encourages workers to totally retire sooner than they may like, with penalties nullifying the financial benefit of even a small set of hours.

“We hear from people who are or were registered nurses — and have already stopped in the last five or so years — who would love to come back into the workforce for a day or two a week,” O’Neill notes.

From the perspective of elders’ receiving care, ACWIC have been developing solutions to prevent understaffing as a result of poor planning.

The ACWIC Workforce Planning Tool, which allows aged care managers to input details of their current organisation, provides information showing deficits in staffing levels in accordance with minimum care requirements.

It has been eagerly received by the industry, with 2000 people accessing it thus far.

“It’s practical … and it can be adapted pretty quickly for any changes that Government makes, for example the incoming requirement of 215 minutes of care,” O’Neill says.

Overall, while the crisis persists, O’Neill says she is buoyed by the new Government’s dedication to listen and implement advice from all stakeholders in the aged care community.

“We’re hearing from Government that they’re absolutely looking at some of our suggested mechanisms, and we’re keen to work with them on developing more solutions going forward.

“There’s hope.”

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  1. The article above makes no mention of the Senior Australian involved in aged care. The SECTOR (not industry) needs changes to both providers and senior Australians receiving care as the former depends on the latter to survive.

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