With over one million older Australians receiving aged care services, the aged care workforce makes an extremely valuable contribution to the daily lives of many people.
According to the My Aged Care website, there were exactly 352,100 people employed in the aged care workforce in 2012, working across a variety of residential and community settings. More than 240,000 of these people were employed in direct-care roles such as nurses, personal care or community care workers, and allied health professionals.
Over the next 50 years, a profound shift is set to transform the dynamics of our population and unleash unparalleled demand on this workforce. The number of people aged between 65 and 84 years is expected to more than double by the year 2050, while the number of people aged 85 years and over is expected to quadruple to 1.8 million people, according to the Australian Government’s Australia to 2050: Future Challenges. Eventually, it is expected that over 3.5 million older Australians will come to rely on aged care services.
The impact of these demographic forces will undoubtedly affect the supply of the aged care workforce. The rapidly ageing population will require Australia’s aged care workforce to expand by almost half a million people to reach a figure close 827,000.
Yet, there is already an historic challenge in both the recruitment and retention of qualified staff in the aged care sector. If a larger, well-trained and well-qualified aged care workforce is needed to cope with the demands of a rapidly ageing population, the factors that underlie workforce recruitment and retention challenges will need to be immediately addressed.
One of the ways for aged care providers to overcome some of the workforce challenges is by adopting a sincere commitment to ongoing staff training and development. A commitment to staff training and development can result in increased knowledge, skills, productivity and loyalty of the aged care workforce to deliver high quality care services for older Australians.
Staff knowledge and skills
Staff training and development is not only a requirement for compliance with mandatory industry standards, it is also a vital element in ensuring that older people will continue to receive the best care and support services.
As the ageing population grows, there is likely to be an increase in the number of people living with complex conditions, requiring complex care requirements. Ensuring aged care workers are appropriately trained, qualified and possess the necessary skills to deliver high quality, compassionate care will be fundamental in delivering the complex care to meet the needs of our ageing population. Staff must also be trained and educated in order to stay updated regarding the constantly changing aspects of aged care services.
Australia to 2050: Future Challenges emphasised that the more we develop the skills of each worker, the higher the potential productivity and output of the workforce will become. Providing ongoing training and development to equip staff with the right skills to meet the increasing demands of the work they do, will also contribute to greater efficiencies within the work environment.
Staff recruitment and retention
Demonstrating a solid commitment to workforce training and development enables care providers to offer a much more attractive career opportunity to potential new candidates – a very powerful offer in a tight-labour market where skilled and qualified staff are highly sought-after.
Staff turnover in the aged care sector is much higher than in most other industries. The findings of a University of Melbourne study in 2010 revealed that “working conditions” was the reason given by 44.5 percent of the participants for leaving their roles in aged care. An environment that encourages learning and supports training and development promotes a positive, motivated, and committed workforce. Staff develop loyalty to an employer when they benefit from personal and professional growth, which leads to greater staff retention. The stability that results from a lowered staff turnover also has a positive impact on the people receiving the care.
The reasons that support an investment in staff training and development in aged care may be obvious but understandably, finding the time and resources to make such an investment is a major barrier in itself. The reality of the sector is that many providers are already operating in a revenue-constrained environment, whereby resources are already stretched to maximum capacity.
When you think about staff training, and development, you may imagine traditional models of learning and education that require staff to take time out of the work environment to travel offsite, visit a training centre to attend a course and then bring those learnings back to the workplace to be applied. However, digital learning technology is quickly transforming the way workforce training and development is approached within the sector.
Innovative methods of learning such as online e-learning courses, have the potential to rapidly train many aged care workers in new tools and techniques – quickly, cheaply and efficiently. E-learning courses vary considerably, from five-minute refresher content to more in-depth, interactive learning with specific learning outcomes.
While you may already be familiar with online e-learning courses, there is actually a wide range of digital technology that can support staff training and development in aged care. E-books, online videos, apps, webinars, professional networking sites, video conferencing, blogs and other forms of online content are opening up new possibilities for aged care providers with low-cost, easy-to-access approaches to workforce training and development. Mobile devices such as tablet computers and smartphones are making it easier for employers to empower their care workers by providing the learning resource on the go, where and when they need the information.
We expect digital learning technologies to play an increasing role in workforce training and development, as aged care providers look for ways to overcome the enduring pressure of workforce challenges. It’s important to note that learning technologies are not intended to replace compulsory training, mentoring or on-the-job learning, but work most effectively when supplemented with these traditional forms of education.
Does your own organisation currently invest in staff training and development? In what ways are you using technology to support learning?
(Image credit: David Castillo Dominici)