The number of people needing aged care services is likely to increase four-fold by 2047. Australians are healthier and living longer than ever before. As such, it is important to think about the implications a rapidly ageing population will have on our essential services.
Over the next 40 years, population ageing and growing diversity among older people – their care needs, preferences and affluence – are expected to pose several challenges to Australia’s aged care system. Already in 2017, there is a serious shortage in aged care workers, both in care facilities, and in home and community care.
At present, the community services and health industry employs 12 per cent of the total Australian workforce, which by 2018 will be the equivalent of 1 in every 4 jobs. However, jobs in aged care and nursing, specifically, will be the drivers of significant projected industry growth over coming years. These trends are propelled not just by Australia’s ageing population, but also by the fact that changing patterns of disease and our ability to treat them will increase the proportion of frail older people with more complex care needs.
Interestingly, there is also a noticeable proportion of wealthy older Australians who will continue to be eligible for the age pension, allowing them to leverage services and increase demand for community care in the home in alignment with their preference for greater autonomy and choice in age care services.
Evidently, as more people age and the nature of their needs and preferences intensify the demand on support services, there is a parallel increase in the need for both labour and more highly qualified workers. This necessary expansion in the aged care workforce coincides with a time of age-induced tightening in the labour market, accentuated by competing demands from the acute care sector. Clearly, upskilling workers and encouraging more people to join the sector will be an important element of the solution to this impending challenge.
The current aged care and health training landscape in Australia is rapidly evolving to keep up to speed with societal changes. In 2015, the aged care qualification underwent considerable reform and is now called Certificate III in Individual Support, allowing for specialisations in ageing, home and community, and disability. The new emphasis on individual support is part of a broader policy shift towards person-centred care, whether it be for people who are ageing in centre-based care, at home, or for people with a disability.
Significant shifts in the needs of patients, such as those noted above, call for developments in aged care training format and focus to address the challenges of this next generation. Delivering training using a blended format, for instance, allows students to attain essential knowledge and skills in the classroom while continuing to learn and apply knowledge in the workplace.
The use of short courses is also a practical way to encourage aged care workers to continue upskilling so that they can keep up to date with the latest developments in areas such as preventative care, healthy ageing, grief and loss, palliative care, dementia care, and administration of medication.
While training institutions are working hard to keep up with this rapidly changing industry, it is important that workers are continually seeking opportunities to update their training and that people are encouraged to pursue a career in aged care. As a registered nurse and teacher, I believe that careers in age care or nursing are both in great need and highly rewarding.
The aged care industry is incredibly diverse and flexible, allowing for many different employment options. Home and community care can be very flexible and is an ideal job for people re-entering the workforce after taking time out to care for families or for those who may want local parttime work. Fulltime, parttime and casual work are all very accessible in this industry. In addition, people who are either bilingual or from a non-English speaking background are an increasingly valuable addition in Australia’s multicultural society.
Australia’s rapidly ageing population is critically mounting pressures on the aged care sector across care facilities, community and home care. With many more options and significantly greater flexibility than ever before, education and training opportunities in aged care have never been more accessible. Having both a need, support and flexibility on both the training and workforce side of a qualification is incredibly enticing and Australian workers would be wise to take up the challenge.