‘Demographic destiny’ of aged-care workforce dire

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday August 10, 2021

Warnings that in 10 years aged-care workers will be short by at least 110,000.
Warnings that in 10 years aged-care workers will be short by at least 110,000. (InsideCreativeHouse/Adobe)

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has called for an immediate boost to Australia’s aged-care workforce as forecasts point to a shortfall of 110,000 essential staff over the next decade.

A new report published by CEDA on Tuesday has warned that in 10 years’ time the number of workers directly servicing aged-care will be short by at least 110,000 people. Within 30 years, the workforce shortage will reach 400,000 too few workers.

The jobs include personal care assistants, nurses and people working in allied health. 

CEDA chief economist Jarod Ball said decision-makers have known about this ‘demographic destiny’ in aged-care for decades. Ensuring the sector had capacity to deliver basic standards of care, he added that every year another 17,000 employees needed to join the workforce.

“These projections are based on conservative assumptions, and the situation may prove to be even more dire than this,” Ball said. 

The economist added that urgent proactive measures were required from the federal government given that demand on the sector will only continue to grow. By 2030 people aged 65 and over will make up almost 20% of the population, up by 4% of the current proportion of older people in the Australian community.

Report author Cassandra Winzar argued that improving working conditions was the first step to improving the sector’s ability to attract more workers and retain them.

“The federal government has committed to raising the minimum daily staff time per resident to 200 minutes,” Winzar said.

“While this is an improvement, it will only get us to the bare minimum of acceptable care by global standards. That is how far behind we are compared with other countries.”

Ball noted that current understaffing of aged-care in Australia had contributed to these ‘below world standards’. The recent royal commission into the sector also found this, underscoring how a shortage in workers sits at the heart of so many problems facing aged-care.

Compared to the level of spending that countries like Japan, the Netherlands, and other Scandanavian nations — known for their high-quality aged-care systems — outlaid, Ball said Australia’s average spend fell well below. 

The time had well and truly come for the Australian government to invest more in aged-care workers, he explained. Because without a healthy workforce, it was impossible for the system to provide the services that older people expected and deserved.  

“We have not come anywhere near the growth in workers we need to meet demand,” Ball said

“The federal government must commit to increasing funding for the sector to meet the workforce challenge.”

He said that failing to address the aged-care workforce problem would not only lead to poorer outcomes for an ageing Australia, but place additional burden on families and communities.

CEDA’s report advanced 18 recommendations for the sector based on consultation with aged-care providers, training organisations, unions and academics. Some of the recommendations include new migration paths to attract ‘high-quality, motivated migrant workers to the sector’ and investment in new technology to free more staff for face-to-face care services.


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