Australia’s shortage of aged care workers

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AUSTRALIANS are aging—fast. At the same time, the growth in the population of its traditional workforce is expected to slow to almost zero.

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Even with increased fertility rates there will be more Australians aged 65 and above over the next 40 years than there would be caregivers qualified and willing to take care of elderly Australians.

A report issued by the Australian government Treasury shows that in 1970-71, 31 percent of the population was aged 15 years or younger. By 2001-02 this proportion had dropped to 22 percent.

On the other side of the age spectrum, the proportion of Australia’s population aged over 65 years has grown from 8 percent in 1970-71 to 13 percent in 2001-02. Unless the situation stabilizes, the proportion of the population over 65 years will almost double in the next 40 years to around 25 percent.

Unions representing the aged care workforce say the stress and pay that come with caring for the elderly is just too much and too little respectively. Even family members who could – and are willing — to take on the familial duty cannot because there was simply very little government support.

In August 2013, the Australian government launched a program designed to address the crisis.

Dubbed “Living Longer, Living Better” the 10-year program will provide $880.1 million over five years to increase the number of elderly care packages from around 60,000 to 100,000. Another batch of 40,000 additional packages are expected to be available from 2017-18 to 2021-22.

The money is there. Government funding is ready. But are the aged care workers available?

In 2010, the then Department of Health and Ageing estimated that the aged care workforce would need to increase between two and three times before 2050 in order to provide care to the growing number of aged care residents.

So yes, there exists an aged care workforce. But these workers themselves are aging. And employers are having a hard time attracting and retaining Australian workers.

Aged care advocates in Australia believe the traditional models of aged patient care cannot cope with the demands of the future.

A significant component of the recommended package of solutions is to increase skilled migration – especially in the aged care sector.

Current regulations in accepting temporary and permanent careers to Australia, however, illustrate a bumpy road ahead.

The most common temporary work visa to Australia – the Subclass 457 – requires the applicant’s occupation to be on the Skilled Occupations List. There are two: the Skilled Occupations List Schedule 1 and the Consolidated Skilled Occupations List (Schedule 2).

The second list is the compilation of all occupations submitted by each State or Territory of Australia, hence the term “Consolidated”.

The Aged Care Worker is not on the list.

The relevant occupations or similar to the Aged Care Worker are the Residential Care Officer (with the Australia New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations – ANZCO Code) 411715. Another related occupation is the Family Support Worker (411713). Both are under the Unit Group 4117 Welfare Support Workers.

The potential employer must be eligible to sponsor and nominate a foreign worker under the Subclass 457. The worker must be English proficient and must meet the employer and industry standards for the job being offered – in this case under the Welfare Support Workers.

ANZCO describes occupations in this unit group have a level of skill commensurate with the qualifications and experience under the Australian Qualification Framework, Associate Degree, Advanced Diploma or Diploma (ANZCO Skill Level 2).

Registered Nurses from the Philippines – licensed as they are – would not meet this specific qualification. The solution is to take up the equivalent skill levels which are only available in Australia (diploma courses) and would cost anywhere from $10, 000 to $15,000 Australian dollars.

Factor in the airline ticket, accommodation during the one year stay and a Filipino healthcare worker intending to take advantage of this opportunity (shortage of aged care workers in Australia) would need substantial investment to pursue temporary and subsequent permanent employment and residency.

A training and placement organization in Queensland, Australia sought and obtained permission from the Australian government to offer the Aged Care Course in the Philippines by allowing educational institution partners to offer the course either separately or as part of the school’s curriculum recognized by the Philippine regulatory authority, in this case the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)

Charlton Brown – a training and placement organization in Queensland, Australia – is currently offering the Aged Care Course through licensed partners in the country. The cost of the tuition fee for the 7-week course is a fraction of the cost of taking it in Australia.

The last two weeks of the course is taken in Australia where the enrolled student undertakes practical training. Upon grant of the Aged Care III Certificate, the student becomes eligible to take the next level – Aged Care IV and related diploma course.

Since Charlton Brown is a training and placement organization and the Australian government allows international students to work 40 hours a fortnight while studying, a Filipino healthcare worker would be able to learn and earn and become eligible for sponsorship as a permanent resident and permanent employment given the need for qualified aged care workers.

Singapore-based Filipino healthcare and other workers are better positioned to take advantage of this opportunity since most of them are already employed and had passed the employment and qualification requirements equivalent to that of Australia.

Next week, after my visit to Singapore, a report on the nation-state’s policy on foreign workers: Is it still a good option?

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1 Comment

  1. Agreed about the emerging needs for more Aged Care Workers. Even if the occupation got onto the list for the 457, note that the 457 requires a TSMIT salary of around AU$53,400 per annum. Aged Care providers cannot afford such a high salary. The Charlton Brown pathway is ideal.