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Sector heads talk barriers to boosting aged care clinical placements

Universities are keen to work with the aged care sector to expand the number of placements on offer to health professional students.

To meet this end, Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said there needs to be increased supervision capacity in both residential and community care.

“Aged care providers might feel they don’t have enough staff to supervise students. But taking students on placements brings workforce innovation and can also help services to attract and retain university graduates over time,” Jackson explained. “So expanding student placements increases immediate capacity and helps with longer term workforce challenges too.”

Aged & Community Services Australia chief executive Pat Sparrow said it’s important that the industry has a consistent understanding of what a quality placement looks like so the experience of a person entering the aged care workforce is positive.

“An effective workforce strategy needs to be able to educate and support organisations to do that and better communicate the positive aspects of a career in aged services,” Sparrow said.

She said in identifying what training and placements are needed across the country, it is less a question of an exact number and more “a question of accurately identifying the skills the industry is short of and where those skills are needed now and into the future”.

The Productivity Commission projected the number of Australians receiving aged care to almost triple by 2050, requiring staff numbers to grow from 366,000 to almost one million.

In its recently released blueprint for the future aged care workforce, the Aged Care Workforce Taskforce said successful, well-managed placements can contribute to interest in the industry as a career of choice, create a talent pipeline and support changing perceptions of the kinds and quality of work available.

“For this to be effective, individual aged care organisations will find value in participating in placement activities, and related assessment, by partnering at the local level, either individually or through collaborative effort, with their local RTOs, TAFEs and universities,” the report read.

“It is critical to the industry that as many organisations as possible proactively open up opportunities for work and student placements, including well-based assessment processes.”

To get there, Jackson said there are other barriers – within both the aged care and university sector – that must be tackled.

“For the aged care sector, this can include the exclusion of education supervision activities in staff contracts and inflexible arrangements that limit what aged care funding can be used for and who delivers services.

“For universities, funding cuts are a real issue as they undermine their ability to provide dedicated staff time to work with aged care providers. The same is often true for aged service providers.”

Critical to providing quality placements is that aged service organisations are adequately resourced, Sparrow said.

“A key component of this resourcing is having staff with the required knowledge and skills to mentor/buddy people who are on placements.

“We shouldn’t assume that just because an employee is good at what they do they will have the required skills and knowledge, particularly communication skills, to be a good mentor.”

Sparrow added that industry, the higher education sector and the vocational sector could also work together to provide clear articulation and pathways from vocational to higher education qualifications.

“The industry has a role to play in promoting a better understanding of what contemporary aged care services look like and the skills and knowledge those working in aged care services need,” she explained. “It’s about creating a better community understanding of what working in aged care services means and promoting it in a positive way.”

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