Why investment in education is critical to Australia's aged care industry

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

Following a spate of horrifying stories about the state of our aged care system, the government launched the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Safety to investigate and make recommendations for the future. The commission is expected to hand down its initial findings in October 2019, and there are many reforms we are hoping to see. For me, one of the key areas is investment in education. 

An ageing population meets an ageing workforce

In Australia, our population is ageing, and, in the aged care industry, the workforce is rapidly ageing too. The average age of a worker in the Australian aged care sector is currently 46, and, for in home care, that rises to 52. Essentially, this means in the near future, we are going to have the most elderly people requiring care that we have ever had, and the least workers to provide it.  

One study in 2016 found that theaverage patient-to-carer ratio could escalate to an average of one carer to fifty patients across some regions by 2031, with shortages accelerated for some, such as Conargo Local Council, where this is likely to be one carer to over four hundred patients. 

When patient-to-carer ratios are stretched to the limit, the quality of care naturally decreases. As it currently stands, a report by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation (ANMF) found that residents in aged care facilities should be receiving 258 minutes of care each day to be adequately supported, but are currently receiving just 169. 

And while these facts don't account for abuse, they do help us to understand why the quality of care is decreasing and we are seeing a rise in unintentional neglect. Currently, in Australia, there are no compulsory ratios, and this is an issue many hope the Royal Commission will address. However, the challenge still lies in finding the right people to fill the roles.  

It's about attracting the right people

 While some efforts have been made to incentivise people to consider a career in aged care to address skills shortages, we really need to be attracting the right people to care roles. 

Care roles can be incredibly rewarding, but they can also be demanding and require patience, dedication and commitment. For the right person, a career in aged care can be a very fulfilling one, but it’s not an industry for everyone. A lot of the work is very manual and includes things like helping with toileting and bathing, which is simply not for everyone. 

Putting people who are not suited to the work into care roles is not fair on the individual worker or the patients they will be caring for, and it can lead to neglect or abuse situations. 

This is where, in my opinion, reforms and increased investment in education could really make inroads into some of the industry's key challenges. 

VET providers have a role to play 

At VERTO, we employ a screening process when it comes to aged care qualifications to ensure the students choosing this path are well-suited to working in the industry. Our courses also include work placements to give students an opportunity to experience the work first-hand. 

This is something we choose to do because it aligns with our mission to positively impact the lives of the individuals and communities we serve – it’s in the best interests of the student and the community alike. However, this is not mandatory, there are currently no standards or requirements for matching people to care roles. Some providers choose to do it, but not all.

Aged care can look like an attractive option because there are many jobs available, but it is critical that only people with the right mindset, patience, and commitment to caring for others take on roles if we are to lift the quality of aged care.

It’s about the right qualifications too

Today, the unofficial industry standard for a person entering the aged care industry is the Certificate III in Individual Support, but the key word here is unofficial. There are no industry standards to enter the industry. Essentially, this means your loved ones could be cared for by people with little or no industry qualifications. 

In my opinion, aged care education and workforce development desperately needs reform and funding. We need to see mandatory standards for screening and qualifications across the industry. In fact, there is a recognised misalignment between the skills required for direct care and the current educational framework. There are no two ways about it; investment in improving education standards and pathways is critical to lifting the quality of care and attracting the right people to the industry.

There is no reason the aged care sector in Australia can't have a brighter future. The Royal Commission will hopefully lead to increased standards across the industry, which will lead to better care for patients and increased pay and conditions for sector workers. If we are to drive long-term change, investment in education is critical, and something we should all hope to see in the Commission's findings.