Nearly every aged care provider in Australia will understand the mounting pressure of a growing elderly population, as resident numbers continue to climb.
However, the expanding population of elderly Australians isn't something that Australian providers can deal with – the aged care sector must focus on putting qualified staff in place to handle care.
McCrindle research predicts that by 2050, there will only be five workers per retired couple – and this is definitely an issue that needs addressing.
This article will detail the current Australian aged care workforce and what needs to be done to ensure that population growth remains manageable.
A delicate balance
The Australian aged care workforce is currently strained, as the scales tip toward ageing Australians, posing significant staffing challenges.
With the elderly population growing, facilities need an appropriate number of trained carers to look after their residents on a daily basis. This means people who can efficiently operate these facilities, looking after older Australians with a variety of care needs.
The staffing issue stems from a lack of skilled workers, as working-age Australians start to retire, with low replacement numbers on the horizon.
Relieving young carers
There's also the issue of young carers – those Australians who are looking after family within the home. This is another challenge that will need to be addressed, both to relieve these carers and provide more effective care to older Australians.
To address home care workforce concerns, the government isn't standing idly by. In a joint media release posted by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Senator Mitch Fifield, they announced that the government would provide an additional 150 bursaries to young carers, to help them with their education.
The Young Carer Bursary Programme is designed to help young carers return to study, enabling them to combine education with caring responsibilities. Essentially, this can be used to relieve financial pressure on the family to which the person is providing care.
Data gathered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2012 noted that there were around 2.7 million carers at the time, with 29 per cent of these being primary carers. These are home carers – not those working within residential aged care facilities.
At the time, Carers Australia chief executive officer Ara Cresswell explained to Australian Ageing Agenda that the country needed to invest in unpaid carers.
"Provision of carer supports is an investment not just in carers themselves but in the disability, health, aged care sectors, carer workforce participation and the community as a whole," she said.
"With an ageing population, more Australians will continue to take on caring roles in the future. Supporting carers to combine work and care is therefore essential."
The future aged care workforce
Australia certainly faces a puzzle when it comes to the future workforce, and there's no easy solution for the staffing shortfall. While new technologies will make operating facilities easier (communications and robotics) skilled carers are a necessity.
It's going to be critical over the next few years to incentivise working in the aged care sector, attracting younger generations to the positions.
Of course, providers also need to focus on other areas, such as ensuring that facilities remain financially viable. This is essential to managing the demands of residents, as funding shortfalls can essentially mean inadequate care.
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