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Help wanted: report predicts ‘worrying’ aged care worker outflow

The aged care sector is facing a potential shortfall of 80,000 workers over the next five years.

That’s one of the key findings of a new HESTA report that draws on its more than 200,000 members working in the space and explores the movements of health and community services (HACS) workers.

Chief executive Debby Blakey said the research found just under a quarter of aged care workers surveyed intend on leaving the sector in one to five years.

The report, Transforming Aged Care – reimagining the aged care workforce of tomorrow, held that this is equivalent to 84,000 employees within the aged care workforce – and only 4,000 workers are expected to enter the sector from other areas of HACS.

“Our research identifies a worrying potential outflow of workers from aged care in the next five years, right as we need to be attracting significantly more people to work in the sector,” Blakey said.

The most common reasons for aged care workers wanting to leave the industry included the desire to try something different (38 per cent) and not being paid enough (22 per cent). Just under half said they wanted to exit the sector to develop new skills.

Still, the majority (77 per cent) of those surveyed indicated that they intend to work in the sector for the long term.

“Aged care employees spoke of how rewarding they found caring for Australia’s elders — of special moments shared, of wanting to make a difference, or simply the power of being there to listen,” Blakey said. “It’s this human connection that lies at the heart of retaining valuable, experienced employees and attracting the new entrants to the industry.”

Some of the suggested pathways employers and/or employees put forward as key to attracting and retaining staff included well-structured and consistent job training and career pathways, flexible rosters, and greater certainty of hours.

Employers also eyed recruiting new talent from allied industries such as hospitality and retail, and promoting technological innovation in robotics and AI to attract millennials to the sector. Some saw training and employee development as a competitive edge in terms of customer care and staff engagement. "They have their own in-house training programs and some want to become registered training organisations," the report read.

Blakey said: “The research highlights lots of positive solution-led suggestions from employers and employees. Better working conditions and greater employee recognition are likely to make a big difference to job satisfaction and employee engagement.

“Employees also told us they want more time to care for clients and to cut through some of the red tape that surrounds their roles.”

Focus groups with members revealed that employees feel they invest a lot of time and effort in the job, often going well beyond the minimum required and as such are seeking appreciation and support of management and co-workers.

“There is considerable scope for employers to focus on relatively simple and inexpensive acknowledgement programs.

“One participant noted an employer had instigated a ‘thank you’ envelope, where colleagues could acknowledge actions of their co-workers who had gone ‘above and beyond’. She said this created a sense of satisfaction and engagement among her team,” the report read.

It said the opportunity to substantially increase employee engagement through inexpensive changes to the working experience warrants further exploration.

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