New research has challenged the assumption that increased wages would do little to entice qualified nurses back into the workforce.
A longitudinal study, which tracked the career decisions of nurses over a nine-year period, found that a pay rise would strongly induce nurses to re-enter the workforce.
Co-author of the study, Dr Barbara Hanel from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research, said nurses currently out of the labour force or employed in other areas were an important target group for policymakers and financial incentives were a promising policy.
Previous research has suggested that nurses respond only weakly to changes in wages. However, the decision to exit or enter the nursing profession has not been taken into account in these studies, she said.
At the same time, the study of 700 nurses also found that wage increases for non-nursing jobs would draw a substantial proportion of nurses out of the nursing workforce.
“It is crucial to ensure that wages in nursing do not fall behind the development of wage levels offered in alternative occupations,” the study said.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, about 17 per cent of registered or enrolled nurses were not working as nurses in 2005.
Hanel said wages policy as a recruitment strategy should not be “off the agenda” for governments.
Recent projections by Health Workforce Australia projected a shortfall of nearly 110,000 nurses by 2025.
While previous government attempts to lure nurses back through financial incentives have failed, such as the 2008 “Bringing Nurses Back to the Workforce” program, Hanel said this was probably due to it being a one-off incentive scheme.
The recent study found that lower qualified, childless and older nurses would respond more strongly to a wage increase as an incentive to return to the workforce.
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