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.