Staffing in the Aged Care Sector: Can We Keep Up With the Growing Demand?
New Zealand’s rapidly aging population is obviously going to affect the aged care industry. Not only will there be more people requiring care, but as people age out of the workforce, there are fewer young people to replace them, and therefore fewer people providing the taxes needed to pay for the care.
It may seem impossible to keep up with the demand for staff in the aged care sector. Many residential care homes already struggle to find staff, and the problem does not seem to be going away soon. But there are ways to help change that and to keep staff in the aged care workforce.
Young Kiwis are not attracted to the aged care sector, and companies have difficulty retaining those that do join. In fact, around 24 percent of the workforce leave each year. Part of the problem is that society does not value aged care workers.
Those already working in the industry report that they feel little value is placed on their work. They are overworked and underpaid, and this perception is shared by society at large, making it even harder to convince new workers to join the sector.
This may change as the population ages. As more people require care or have parents entering residential care, more segments of society will see the value provided by aged care staff. Public awareness campaigns can also help illustrate to the public what aged care workers do.
One of the consequences of devaluing aged care is that there are poor employee benefits. The aged care workforce is one of the lowest paid workforces in New Zealand. They average $14.40 per hour, but many are on the minimum wage of $12.75 per hour, and have been for over a decade as there is no pathway for advancement.
On top of this, a 2016 study indicated that only 36 per cent of the workforce have guaranteed hours each week, and the majority are dissatisfied with their job security. This is despite staffing shortages already existing in the industry. These staff shortages mean that there is continued pressure on fewer staff to do more work, leading to stress and fatigue, which can lead to workplace injury and illness.
The recent pay equity deal will raise aged care and support workers’ wages by 71 per cent by 2021, doing a great deal to make the industry more attractive. A pay parity agreement will also see nurses in homes paid the same as nurses in hospitals, helping attract nursing staff. Permanent positions and more staff will help ease worker stress, leading to greater retention.
New immigration policies are looking at restricting the numbers of people coming to New Zealand. This could have far-reaching effects on aged care staffing. Currently more than one-third of the aged care workforce is on some form of visa, usually an Essential Skills visa. With more aging people leaving the workforce than there are young people entering, migrants become an even more essential source of workers.
As aged care workers require no minimum training or qualifications, they are not included under the Skills in Demand visa, so there is no pathway to permanent residence. New immigration laws also mean that these workers must return home every three years, increasing the people leaving the aged care workforce and disrupting the continuity of care of residents.
Many in the industry are already lobbying for changes to make it easier for migrants to come to New Zealand and find a stable and permanent home here. Finding ways to attract migrants to the industry and giving them a pathway to stay in the country, and feel like they belong, will be a large part of meeting the workforce demand.
New Zealand’s aged care industry will continue to need more workers to provide the level of care expected in the sector. The government needs to take some steps, including immigration reform. Businesses can also take action to increase permanent positions, wages, and support staff to help attract and retain new workers.
For further information, contact your nearest LINK Business Broking Office.