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How one provider takes on recruiting

There is no doubt the sector needs more workers; Nieves Murray of IRT – an Australian Business Awards 2014 Employer of Choice – outlines strategies the provider uses to meet demand.

The aged-care industry will need to recruit 650 new workers every month for the next 10 years simply to meet demand.

That’s according to a recent report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and McCrindle Research – Demand vs. Supply: Australia’s aged care puzzle – which also points out half of the 240,000 people working on the frontline in aged care in Australia today will reach retirement age in the next 15 years.

As an industry, aged care is at the dawn of a new era. More than 3.5 million people are expected to need access to aged-care services by 2050. That’s an increase of 2.5 million on today’s numbers.

Could you imagine if we tried to care for an extra 2.5 million people today without expanding our workforce? Across the board it would simply be unachievable, that’s why we need to start building for the future.

So how do we recruit the right people to meet this rapidly changing environment? We know the current median age of residential aged-care workers is 48, and the average community aged-care services employee is now 50. With a current lack of younger people in the workforce, I think one of the most important steps is to make aged care more attractive to younger generations.

We have implemented a number of initiatives aimed at doing this. One of those was establishing our own registered training organisation, IRT College, in 1999.

Today, to help meet growing demand, the college delivers the On-Track program. This course was designed to introduce students, no matter what their age or background, to the aged-care sector – one we know they have not been attracted to in the past.

The program allows students to gain hands-on work experience with IRT. It’s run over 16 weeks and on successful completion, students gain a dual qualification in aged care and home and community care.

Another effort to capture the attention of a younger generation is operating at the Kangara Waters community in the ACT. There we have formed a relationship with Hawker College, a nearby secondary college for senior high school students. This partnership fosters intergenerational relationships, where students learn about residents’ life experiences whilst students teach the residents how to use programs such as Facebook and Skype.

In another example, on the NSW South Coast, we run a program titled My Story Matters. This involves similar interactions between students and residents.

Introducing high school students to the aged-care environment shows them it’s an extremely rewarding, people-centred sector. We’ve also seen a number of participants in these courses continuing their training in aged care and ultimately joining the workforce.

In 2013, IRT College trained 71 On-Track students and many graduates are now working in the sector. We need this trend to continue across the board. Ongoing investment from both the private and public sectors is necessary to ensure organisations can offer subsidised or fully paid training courses to address the projected shortfall in the workforce.

Training courses for potential employees are one thing, but it’s also necessary to keep your current workforce engaged. Our new strategy aims at creating an organisational culture of excellence that is equipped for the future.

A solid commitment to workforce training and development enables care providers to offer a much more attractive career opportunity – a powerful selling point in a tight labour market where skilled and qualified employees are highly sought after.

Innovative methods such as online eLearning courses (which IRT is rolling out in 2015) can rapidly train current and potential aged-care workers with new tools and techniques – quickly, cheaply and efficiently.

We expect digital learning technologies to play an increasing role in workforce training and development, and, in turn, in our ability to recruit more workers to the sector.

Training can’t just be tailored to care and nursing employees. We need to acknowledge the significant demand we are going to have for allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, podiatrists and dentists, as well as lifestyle and wellbeing providers such as hairdressers, counsellors and social planners.

As longevity increases, the average number of years for which supported care is required is rising rapidly. Partnerships with educators through federally funded programs are a great way to both supplement current need and create a career pathway.

In 2012, we joined forces with the University of Wollongong to develop the Illawarra Teaching and Research Aged Care Services (iTRACS) Project. It allows students studying a range of degrees to gain practical experience within the aged-care sector and provides services that are difficult to obtain.

For example, there are two provisional psychologists who participated in the iTRACS program undertaking internships at IRT communities. Both are in their early 20s and say the internship has given them an insight into a career path they had never considered but are now willing to pursue into the future.

But what about the other types of professionals we need? As demand for services grows, so too will the need for finance, human resources, information technology, procurement, governance, marketing and sales professionals.

For this, we have a number of cadetships, scholarships and internships. These can provide students in their final years of study with hands-on experience within our sector.

We all know that working in aged care provides many people with a fulfilling and secure occupation. Regardless, we’re also aware there’s still a way to go to remove the stigma attached to aged care and make it sexy.

The National Recruitment Australia website states that, ultimately, unless you’re Mother Theresa, you don’t commonly aspire to work in aged care – nevermind that it’s an extremely rewarding, people-centred occupation where you can see the difference you make daily.

I think as employers it is our job to change the cultural aspects of recruitment to the aged care sector. By setting clear expectations and acting consistently we can create a positive ‘can do’ attitude within our sector. Our employees know that delivering efficiency allows us to give back.

To find the right people who want to work in the jobs we need for the future, we need to demystify what aged care is all about. We need to raise the profile of our organisations as contemporary and great places to work. We need to promote seniors as dynamic and valuable contributors to society. By telling their stories, we can showcase that our companies play a vital role in the community and can make a real difference to peoples’ quality of life.

Nieves Murray is the chief executive of IRT.

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