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What needs to happen in aged care training

The way employers engage recognised training and provide an environment for skill development must also be addressed as part of improving careers and retention, writes Robin Flynn.

In Dr Maree Bernoth’s article “No surety of standards in Cert III for aged care” she raises important issues about consistency and quality in training delivery by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), and the importance of workplaces in developing skills. However, it is critical that these issues are positioned within a broader aged care workforce development context which includes consideration of recruitment, changing client demographics, funding policy, job design, retention, leadership and management as well as recognised qualifications.

Aged care and the broader community services and health industries are receiving increased attention lately because of the intensity of growth and change occurring. Collectively the community services and health industries are the largest Australian employer with over 1.3 million workers, and have provided 20 per cent of all new jobs in the past ten years (from a base of only 9-11 per cent of the Australian workforce). In the next five years these two industries will grow by 25 per cent and aged care will be a major part of this growth.

Change will be a significant factor in aged care with a focus on maintenance of functional independence in community settings and the need to meet complex needs in these settings.

Demographic change, consumer choice, removal of low and high care distinctions and a shift from an illness to wellness model all add to the challenge of how we shape the growing workforce. This includes new roles and changes to existing roles of care workers, general practitioners, enrolled nurses, registered nurses, nurse practitioners and allied health professionals.

The Productivity Commission’s Caring for older Australians report identifies that when aged care providers implement effective management practices retention improves. Poor RTO delivery is a problem for VET regulation and must be addressed in itself. The way employers engage recognised training and provide an environment for skill development must also be addressed as part of improving careers and retention.

In the Australian vocational education and training system the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council is the organisation responsible for development of the competency standards and qualifications in training packages. The Community Services and Health training packages represent the job roles of approximately 700,000 workers in the industries; and about one-quarter of these are in direct care roles in the aged care sector. The skills council believes that the process for development and revision of the competency standards is an effective way of establishing industry agreement on the description of work including in aged care. The national aged care qualifications have been updated three times since 1999 and the assessor qualifications have been similarly updated.

Problems with consistency and quality occur at the point of delivery of assessment and training by RTOs. Improving consistency and quality is not a matter for one stakeholder group alone and there are a number of things that need to happen:

Provision of specific aged care sector advice to inform RTO regulatory processes through the new Australian Skills Regulatory Authority and WA and Victorian VET regulators.

Strengthen requirements for linking funding of qualifications to aged care enterprise and industry workforce development objectives.

Adoption of workforce planning and workforce development approaches that result in more targeted use of training and other workforce and organisational development responses.

Development of people management skills of employing organisations to ensure appropriate supervision and support for trainees.

Review the statements about assessment requirements for aged care competency standards to include greater involvement of employers and workplace supervisors in structured workplace training and assessment and a more transparent monitoring of outcomes. The council is commencing this work in 2011.

In the 2010 report Australian Workforce Futures: a national workforce development strategy Skills Australia proposes that investment in VET has not had the desired impact on productivity and that we need to reconsider how this investment contributes to more strategic workforce development in workplaces. Problems with the delivery of Certificate III in Aged Care are an example of where investment in delivery of qualifications has pushed quality down and diverted focus from innovative workforce responses to growth and change.

A broader workforce development approach will enable new wellness-focused job roles and careers for care workers - and improvement to VET performance will be a key part of this process. n

Robin Flynn is the policy and research manager at the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council.

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