Not enough aged care workers – how will Australia cope while borders are still closed?

Aged care staff shortage

The government will require 200 minutes of direct care per resident per day by mid-2023, but with the workforce already overstretched, many are questioning if this target will be achievable.

With 40% of new recruits to aged care born overseas, the projected closure of Australia’s international borders until mid-2022 could make hitting the target even more difficult.

The Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC) has been tasked with ensuring the aged care workforce is suitably skilled to deliver safe, consistent and high quality aged care services. 

CEO, Helen O’Neill, told HelloCare the Council is concerned border closures could make it difficult to achieve the targets. 

But with mandated care hours set to be enforced in just over two years – from 1 October 2023 – O’Neill hopes “some migration” will be possible by then. 

The Council would like to see an expansion in the skilled migration program to boost the aged care workforce.

“The Council proposes that to attract more workers, the skilled migration program for workers with skills that meet the needs of caring for and supporting older people should be significantly expanded,” O’Neill added.

It’s already taking longer to fill vacancies 

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) CEO, Sean Rooney, told HelloCare, “We are already hearing some reports of increased time to fill vacancies and fewer suitable candidates.”

Though LASA’s recent Workforce Benchmarking Survey revealed the time taken to fill aged care positions is below the average of other industries, border closures and other labour market disruptions “may create challenges”, Rooney said. 

The COVID vaccination program and the new AN-ACC assessment workforce are both employing a significant number of nurses, and the expanding NDIS is also competing for aged care staff, compounding the pressures on recruitment.

However, the biggest factor determining if providers will be able to meet the mandated care targets will be funding, Rooney admitted.

“Meeting the increased care hours in residential care being introduced by [the] government will depend most critically on the funding being able to reward those staff appropriately,” he said.

While Rooney says the funding in the budget is “about right”, details about how the funding will be allocated will provide greater clarity.

In an initial “transition period” before the care hours become mandatory, from October 2022, aged care providers will be funded and required to disclose how many staff they employ. 

“This gives services some sufficient time to build up their workforce,” Rooney said.  

“Some providers already meet/exceed the care minutes requirements,” he noted.

Programs underway to grow the workforce

The recent federal budget provided enough funding to retain and employ new aged care workers, according to a spokesman for the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck. 

The government’s Care Workforce Labour Market Study will look at the factors affecting the supply and demand of care workers both in the near term and longer term to 2050. 

This will inform the development of the Australian Government’s care workforce strategy and support the sustainability of the sector over time, the spokesperson told HelloCare.

O’Neill said the Council is developing an aged care ‘job architecture’, which maps out jobs in the sector and career pathways to make it easier for prospective aged care employees to identify opportunities that would suit them.

Programs to support aged care workers from overseas 

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs told HelloCare the government is “carefully calibrating skilled migration” to fill critical skills and support the economic recovery.

The government’s Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) was introduced last year to allow migration for targeted occupations where there are skill shortages.

The government has also “temporarily relaxed” the usual 40 hours per fortnight work limit for those on international student visas for those working in some sectors during the pandemic, including aged care.

In addition, the government’s ‘COVID-19 Pandemic Event’ visa allows suitably skilled temporary visa holders to work in aged care. 

And ‘Working Holiday Makers’ who are working in critical sectors, including aged care, will be exempt from the 6-month work limitation with one employer, and they will be eligible for a Temporary Activity visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event stream.

Better pay the key to recruitment

The key to meeting the new mandatory care time requirements in 2023 will be employing more staff, wherever they hail from. 

With borders closed and that avenue narrowed, at least for part of the lead-in period, many providers are likely to face challenges recruiting the workforce they require. 

Their best bet will be to offer higher wages, particularly for personal care workers, who deliver the majority of the care.

And there will have to be sufficient government funding to achieve that goal.

What do you think about the staff shortage in the aged care sector? Tell us in the comments. 

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  1. The problems are …. working conditions ,not enough staff on the floor ..To assist the residents when needed .

    Too many migrants that are not skilled ,their English skills are poor ,and do not know our culture.

    More skilled staff would apply for these positions In aged care If the Working conditions were better ,that’s why migrants are a high portion of this work force ,short course done ,gets a job done ,don’t like the work but I’ll stay in it anyway

  2. Our organisation has facilities in the Sydney metropolitan area. Already we have experienced difficulties in employing sufficient staff to meet our turnover requirements. Like a number of providers we employ staff on various visas. The staff plan to stay permanently in Australia. In order to do so, the Commonwealth requirement to move to a regional or rural post code leaves us having supported and trained staff being forced to move, and then replacements found. This continual requirement to advertise, orientate and induct staff is both consumptive of financial resources and also of staff and management time. It also impacts upon the continuity of care for residents. With the impact upon immigration this will only worsen.

  3. We cannot wait till 2023 for more staff —- what a ridiculous proposition. We need staff now, today, this week —
    There is simply not enough staff to carry out all the daily duties in residential aged care facilities. Not having the necessary number of workers to care for the elderly means essential care is missed.

    I will start by describing a morning in a RACF that I don’t believe has ever been documented in any detail. Just as an example: The first thing (all) people want to do when they wake up in the morning is go to the toilet. But there is not enough time for two carers who have arrived on duty at 0700 hours to take 20, 30, 40, residents to the toilet all at the same time.

    Many are woken at the crack of dawn (although I do not know why they are woken at all) to be showered. I believe they should be allowed to sleep and wake up naturally. Some can walk, go to the toilet, and wash their hands themselves, but there are many who wear incontinence pads and they need their pads to be changed before breakfast. Many are faecally incontinent and changing pads requires care staff to devote a lot of time to clean them up properly (or even to shower them before breakfast).

    Many residents have hearing aids. Care staff has to make sure the aids are clean and batteries are working / changed / tested before they are inserted correctly into residents ears, before breakfast. This can be difficult when residents have dementia because they may become resistive and lash out at care staff (often hurting them).

    Dentures must be cleaned and given to residents or put into the mouths of residents who cannot do this for themselves. Most, if not all, residents have full or partial sets of dentures and these too have to be inserted before breakfast.

    Then there are dependent, immobile, residents who need total assistance from at least two or three care staff using a mechanical lifter after they have had their hearing aids and dentures put in and pad changed. Lifting these residents out of bed and into a wheelchair to push them into the dining room takes time and I repeat, when residents have dementia they may become resistive and lash out at care staff (often hurting them and themselves).

    Breakfast may be served at 0730 hours but the kitchen closes at 0830 hours. Many of the 20, 30, 55 residents need their food cut up for them and some need to be fed (if they have lost the use of an arm following a stroke, for example). It is completely unrealistic to think that two care staff can safely manage all the tasks I have mentioned for even 10 residents.

    This routine of toileting, pad changing and hand washing, is repeated before every meal. Then, at night, hearing aids and dentures must be removed and cleaned. Toileting, pad changing and hand washing is repeated.

    I am an aged care, wound care, Registered Nurse (RN). I have been in about 300 RACFs and many private homes since 1997 to see residents with wounds and advise on clinical care and infection control. I have watched them working. I have fed residents when I see that two staff simply cannot get around all the residents who need to be fed (and we wonder why some are malnourished).

    I have discussed this with RACF managers and doctors in one Division of General Practice. I have expressed my overwhelming concerns to them. I have written to the Royal Commission about staffing levels. I spoke at the Royal Commission hearing in the Darwin Supreme Court last year — on another aged care matter.

    I am so frustrated because I feel ‘ratios’ need to be discussed in the context of what care staff must do each shift. They cannot get everything done. Dentures alone can take 20 minutes to remove, clean, re-insert in one resident’s mouth when they have dementia.

    Well done to all aged care staff — I truly admire you. I know the workloads you have every shift.

  4. As a aged care worker and a daughter of 2 parents who are in a aged care facility, there are too many migrants working in the industry, they have no skills at all, they speak their own languages when attending care to the residents, I have heard from residents themselves complaining about this issue, they don’t understand them properly when they do speak English, residents are very frustrated, we need other migrants who speak and understand English properly, I believe more money would entice the right kind of staff who must be trained properly.

    1. Our nursing home residents comprise Croatian, Serbian, Greek, Italian, Iranian, Vietnamese, Russian, German,China…. Etc.

      Our staff can communicate with a wide range of residents, the reality is that there are as many languages in nursing home beds as there caring for them.
      The carers actually doing the job,of whatever nationality overwhelmingly do a fantastic job.

      If have hoped the younger generation would be less racist… apparently not the case.
      You can put whatever pay rate on offer but sadly Aussie kids just don’t seem to have a work ethic anymore. It’s a complex role and the carers deserve a pay increase but you’re kidding yourself if you think young Aussies will be applying.

      1. I know. I have seen Aussies staff hiding and refusing to help their workmates. All we get hear is migrants are not skilled. There are no any aussies who can work as hard as migrants . This is so sad to hear that all they blame is to migrants who are far from home and working in such low paid job. This is the reason why there is short staff on floor, cause they do not get appreciation for their work and only complaints. Aussies forget that residents in aged care facilities are also of different nationalities and they do not know their language. This not the time to blame but to work as a team.

  5. Thank you for an informative article.I am a passionate Aged Care trainer that loves and adores our industry.We seriously need to address wages for our care workers and a staff ratio,resident to care worker.If we implement these changes we will attract the correct people to our industry.

  6. In the 38 years that I have worked in the Aged care Industry, firstly as an unskilled, and uneducated worker, as there were no qualifications in this industry for many years and then as a EEN for over 20 years. I can honestly say that we have never had enough skilled workers, but I do take exception to your comment on:

    “Their best bet will be to offer higher wages, particularly for personal care workers, who deliver the majority of the care.”

    PCW’s do deliver the majority of personal care, make observations and report usually to the EEN supervisor, (RNs are usually managers or only available by phone) but having said that there is so much more that is involved with providing the best care for our residents.

    Nurses in aged care particularly EEN’s receive only a few dollars more than the Personal care workers, they supervise and direct the PCW’s in their day to day activities with the residents, they coordinate services for the residents including allied health professionals- GP reviews, Physiotherapist visits, OT’s, podiatry, they liaise with these providers and the residents families.

    In addition to this they administer the residents many types of medications, organise for changes to residents medications and/or new medication from the pharmacy. Everything they do has a specific type of documentation to be completed in its many various forms. In all my years of nursing and I am sure most other EEN’s in Aged care have never left a shift on time, because we work with human beings not” boxes in a factory”.

    1. You are right Julie. I always leave the workplace 30 minutes after my shift because of documentations , sometimes at last minutes, resident buzz for assistance where you cannot ignore and leave for the next shift. I’m an AIN for 8 years but still on student visa.

  7. Unfortunately, when people aren,t paid a fair wage, you’re not going always going to attract the right workforce. Good dedicated staff are often used and abused working within tight time restraints, Management at times, preferring staff that don,t ask questions.
    You only get what you pay for!
    Unless your a top of the pile! and in that case, many never asked for the Aged Care Royal Commission in the first place.But you hear them clapping now! Flushed with money ?
    It will take better pay rates, education and stricter employment conditions eg: staff being able to communicate with the people they are attending.

  8. Research has already predicated years ago that there will not be enough staff to provide care for our aging population – this pandemic has just added to that. The industry was already struggling to attract staff before all this hit. Working in aged care is not an attractive prospect for our youth born here in Australia – it is both mentally and physically draining, with minimal training and poor pay equal to working at Coles/Safeway. Fifty years ago, no one wanted to work as a domestic/cleaner – and many Italians worked in these roles. The same thing is occurring now – but culture changed for those workers from India, Africa, and Asian cultures to aged care. It is what it is. A perfect storm has hit, with govt. providing extra packages to enable people to remain at home, so that when they do require aged care services, high clinical care required equaled with the majority of staff being pcas with minimal training. Add to this perhaps one registered nurse to provide clinical care for all residents and the outcome is the royal commission into aged care. Predictable.

  9. Definitely better wages! Unless people see that the staff are well paid, are seen as respected carers and a promise of nurturing all staff how would you expect to attract people. If I was serious about the culture of the Aged Care Industry I would put out a whole page in the newspaper of what we had to offer prospective employees. I would advertise on radio what prospective employees would be offered. I would change the attitudes of the reading and listening public. It would read something like this:-“Attitudes in the aged care sector are about to change. The Aged Care industry believes that to be the force of an industry that wants to be the best we need to change our attitudes and be innovating in an industry that needs change. We now see our workers as the most important aspect of our sector. We pay what our workers deserve and have the best ratios to resident care. We provide in-house training for all our prospective staff, will offer longer buddy shifts and you will work and learn with handpicked staff to guide you in your new career. Our elderly are the most important people we are so fortunate to be caring for and they deserve the best care. So we have turned the tables and believe the best care only comes from a change of attitude towards the people looking after our most vulnerable. To achieve this we are offering a pay rate of $ 30 per hour for carers with pay rates accelerating over time. Contact us now! We need you!”

  10. We need to make aged care work more appealing for Australian workers. The job is fabulous, it’s rewarding and a massive opportunity to give back to our most vulnerable. If we paid reasonable rates, made full time employment a real opportunity and promoted the industry We could open up opportunities for Aussies across the board.

  11. Aged care workers deserve a better pay, little pay for hard work and no motivation to carry out the job., understaffing is the issue too and pressure from management who want spot on job, the government should really look into allowing organisations to sponsor aged care workers for visas and pay them better wages which will in turn increase productivity

  12. TMy daughter along with other women completed cert three aged care in theory ,when it came to practical hands on ,they were unable to place the graduate in aged care . These women cannot receive the certificate or indeed find work. The training company has now commenced teaching another group in Cert 3 . So there are able bodied women and men who are in limbo ,that’s why the shortage of staff. The students are out of pocket and so is the govt.The Govt funds this training and have I believe have paid the instructors. Waste of time waste of study , complaints falling on deaf ears. They have as I understood ,had mandatory vaccines so that can’t be used as an excuse. So maybe the buck stops with Govt for not following up these courses to see if students have gained work . If one asks the training officers, they are told it is being held up because of COVID.

  13. The government should include aged care workers in possible migration skill that employer can hire for working visa.

  14. My wife have been working in aged care sector for 8 years but we are still in student visa. We are from the Philippines and everyone who used to work with Filipinos knows that we work religiously, passionately and make sure delivers an efficient job as individual and as a team. The problem here is that, we cannot get PR as aged care worker is not part of Skilled Occupational List. Hoping that government will add aged care worker in SOL.

  15. You are right Julie. I always leave the workplace 30 minutes after my shift because of documentations , sometimes at last minutes, resident buzz for assistance where you cannot ignore and leave for the next shift. I’m an AIN for 8 years but still on student visa.

  16. I am still not getting why personal care workers are not in skilled nomination. Only registered nurses cannot run a nursing home and most of the works are done by personal care workers. I am personal care worker and I do medications as well. There is shortage of staff every day and we still do not have gaurentee of PR. This is the reason many staffs are going casual, leaving jobs and not appearing to worker as the job is difficult to do not only with shortage staff f staff but also new agencies staff coming to work who do not know what to do on the floor. I think we need more care workers in aged care facilities rather than registered nurses.


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