The conversations of life

One-third of frontline aged care workers from overseas – but few incentives to keep them here


37 per cent of aged care workers in Australia were born overseas in 2016 – up from 31 per cent in 2011 – according to the latest research led by RMIT University.

Over half of our personal care assistants, who mostly help residents with needs such as showering, dressing and eating, are now from other countries.

The figures sound big – but the reality is the number of migrants able to work in our aged care sector is low compared to the demand.

According to the Government’s 2017 report into the future of Australia’s aged care workforce, over half of all aged care facilities report shortages of personal care assistants. One-third of community care providers said they didn’t have enough staff.

Job ads in the Community Services and Development sector have jumped 18 per cent alone in the last year, the biggest increase behind only mining and government jobs.

This need is being driven by a high turnover in the sector, either from staff resigning or retiring – and it has a big impact on providers, particularly those in regional, rural and remote areas.

A previous survey on staff turnover in aged care found the average costs of recruiting, inducting and training new staff was $9,591 per employee – a huge investment.

Migrant workers meeting demand

Migrant workers are helping to fill the gap. But the RMIT research also shows overseas-born workers are much more likely to be on temporary visas than a decade ago. Around 64 per cent of migrant care workers who arrived between 2006 and 2016 entered Australia on temporary visas – meaning they must return to their home countries after 12 months.

The Government has been pushing to cut Australia’s migrant intake. Last year, there were just 165,000 – the lowest number in seven years – because of cuts in the number of skilled and sponsored working visas.

There are benefits in employing staff from overseas. Many of these workers are younger and well-educated – almost one in four overseas-born workers has a bachelor’s degree.

Most importantly, they came from cultures such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines that place a high value on family and caring for the elderly.

Aside from the lost investment in training and upskilling these workers, do we want our loved ones to be cared for by an ever-changing procession of workers or a dedicated workforce who is in it for the long haul?

More policies to attract workers

The fact is caring for our elderly is not a seasonal job. We need to recognise that with the right training, these workers form a valuable part of our aged care workforce – and that means offering better pathways to residency and citizenship.

While some workers have been offered permanent residency, few providers can directly recruit workers from overseas and the Government’s current immigration policies don’t prioritise personal care assistants.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is due to kick off its first hearings next week – and investment in our aged care workforce is one of the issues to be covered.

We will be interested to see what the Commissioners recommend.

With predictions that we will need nearly one million aged care workers by 2050, it’s the care of our mums and dads – and ourselves – that is at stake.

A practising aged care physiotherapist for the past 13 years, Jill has worked in more than 50 metropolitan and regional aged care homes. She has also toured care facilities across the US and Africa. She is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff that serve them.

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