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When opportunity knocks, aged care HR must answer the call

As the aged care sector continues to evolve in response to changes in legislation and funding, what does this mean for human resources?

Over the last five years, as the aged care sector has been undergoing immense change, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several significant not-for-profit aged care businesses, including the placement of a number of outstanding HR professionals into these organisations.

During this time, we have all witnessed the changes to legislation affecting aged care providers’ government funding and the impact this has had, most notably where the seeker of care has now been awarded the opportunity to choose their provider of care. This shift has changed the way aged care providers run their business, from how they market and communicate to their clients through to how they manage and adapt to these changes internally.

Through my interactions with senior executives and HR professionals within the sector, I have observed a degree in commonality around the issues that have arisen from an HR perspective that I felt were worth sharing.

John Baker

Here are my top five observations regarding HR in the aged care sector:

  1. HR needed to change.

In years gone by, HR functions in the aged care sector tended to be more akin to the old-style personnel functions. The changes to funding legislation has forced a fundamental rethink of the needs of the business, which has forced organisations to require more of their HR functions. This in turn has led to a significant change to the leadership ranks in many aged care HR functions. The need to create a more contemporary HR service has made organisations look outside their sector to bring in HR leadership talent. The change has often been uncomfortable for many longer serving employees, but has been necessary to bring modern HR practice to these organisations.

  1. Cultural change is hard to make.

For many frontline employees in aged care, their primary motivation is to provide the best care they can for their customers. The changes to funding legislation has forced organisations to be more commercially focused, which many frontline employees feel is at odds to their primary focus. The culture in these businesses has been forged over many years or decades, and has become entrenched. Such a fundamental change to the way these organisations are funded was always going to require a far more commercial focus to make these organisations sustainable. However, when a culture has become so entrenched over decades, getting meaningful cultural change will be a slow and difficult process.

  1. Required data is not always available to support decision making.

Many aged care organisations did not invest the necessary funds into their systems, and are now playing catch-up. The type of information available to many large commercial organisations is simply not available to many in the aged care sector. The role of the CIO in these organisations is critical as they transform, as is the need for HR professionals to clearly define their system needs for the new world. The ability to analyse and interpret data will be just as important a competence for HR professionals in aged care as any commercial organisation.

  1. Resilience is a must-have quality.

One of my clearest observations is that HR professionals need to have a high level of resilience to be successful. HR in aged care is no quiet ride! There is a huge amount of work to be done, with limited resources, in tight timeframes. The demands are significant just to bring HR capability and performance up to date, let alone to get ahead. Quite often, success in highly demanding commercial organisations which have limited funds or resources is a good training ground to prepare people for the aged care sector. The demands on HR professionals in the aged care sector should not be underestimated.

  1. It’s a growth sector with multiple opportunities for career development.

The pace and scale of change in the aged care sector has made it an attractive employment option, particularly as more traditional sectors have been in decline or pulling back. Whereas not too many years ago it would have been a hard sell for an HR professional from the commercial world to transition into the aged care sector, this is no longer the case. The opportunity to drive significant transformation can make it a compelling option, with the caveat that observations 2, 3 and 4 should not be overlooked. It’s not the right environment for everyone, but for those who are up for the challenge, it represents a great opportunity. However, to attract the best talent, some businesses need to do more regarding their employer brand or employee value proposition to sell the opportunities to top talent.

Conclusion

In summary, HR in the aged care sector can be a great option for the HR professional who is going into the sector with their eyes open. The opportunities to create change in operations and culture are many and varied, and it should not be viewed as a sector living in the HR old world any longer. It has attracted some outstanding HR leadership talent over the last few years, and as long as the appetite and will is there to transform, it will be a very different landscape in another five years. It is not a sector that can buy talent at any cost, but the opportunity to make a difference and do great work can be a compelling proposition.

John Baker is joint group managing director at The Next Group (including The Next Step).

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