By Sheila Cummins
There is little doubt that, with an ageing population and the ever increasing pressures on the aged care sector, there is an increased demand and competition for both paid and unpaid carers as we try to navigate through this emerging crisis.
In 2006, over 2.7 million people (13.3 per cent) were aged 65 years and over, of which 330,000 people (1.6 per cent) were aged 85 years and over.
As Australia’s population ages, the proportion of people aged 65 years and over is projected, by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), to almost double to 26 per cent of the population in 2051 (or more than 7 million people).
The number of Australians aged 85 years and over in 2051 is expected to increase to more than 5 per cent of the population (or over 1.6 million people).
Many older Australians require special care or assistance. Of people aged 60 years and over in 2003, 41 per cent reported needing assistance because of disability, or due to frail age, to help manage health conditions or cope with everyday activities.
People aged 85 years and over reported a much higher need for assistance than those aged 60-69 years (84 per cent compared with 26 per cent).
It was widely acknowledged that older Australians want a skilled, well-qualified, respectful workforce which is able to spend time with them and deliver quality care in a complex environment.
As the demand for services increases and the supply of carers decreases, the pressure on aged care providers such as Southern Cross Care (WA) Inc will continue to grow.
The current recruitment and retention issues we face, which are not dissimilar to other aged care providers, illustrate a 22 per cent staff turnover with an average length of tenure of three years.
Some of the challenges we face are either unique to the aged care sector or unique to WA, such as the ability to pay our workers a competitive, commensurate wage for the work they perform.
Many staff leave our industry to work in the service sector and earn a similar wage in an environment that is more predictable and ‘controlled’.
The physical environment our staff works in can present challenges related to their health and safety.
Working in the community and being exposed to extreme weather conditions, driving on busy roads and working in homes that were not built to hospital-level care specifications are just some of the issues faced by aged care providers every day.
Then there are the Gen X and Gen Y complexities. Generation X is cashed up with high demands and even higher expectations.
As this generation enters the market to receive services, they find themselves struggling to understand the needs of Gen Y.
Generation Y want a job now, paying top dollar and want to be in a management role tomorrow and only stay one to two years.
You would think these issues make the recruitment and retention market difficult enough but add the mining boom in Western Australia and things become even more interesting.
How do you prevent staff from leaving and heading north to a mine site to double their annual salary?
Southern Cross Care, like many organisations, is working very hard on employee engagement strategies, employee value propositions and offering a range of employee benefits such as subsidised club memberships, discount travel and entertainment vouchers.
In my opinion, the workforce crisis is the Global Financial Crisis of the aged care sector. We know it’s coming but have not adequately prepared for its arrival.
Organisations such as Southern Cross Care (WA) Inc need to continue to invest in their people, acknowledge their contribution, reward for excellence and build a strong, positive reputation of a career in aged care.