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Undergraded and undervalued: Pollaers talks aged care workforce

“Neither party has taken it particularly seriously,” John Pollaers tells the crowd.

Speaking prior to the election at the Informa National Dementia Conference, Pollaers laments the state of politics and, more broadly, community engagement in the aged care sector.

"It’s sad that these days we need the ABC's Vote Compass to tell us how we should vote, sadder still that not one question touched on aged care," he said.

“Most disturbing is the lack of real community engagement, and when there is, it’s only in flashes,” he said.

Spurred on by the poor treatment of his parents and in-laws in their latter years, Pollaers holds the view that “to change the system, you have to get inside it”.

Pollaers is the chair of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce and through extensive research, he and his colleagues have pinpointed a number of areas that we can improve, and according to him, it needs to happen now.

He tells the crowd that national training is not in line with current needs of the community and expectations have outgrown a purposely fragmented system.

The taskforce tried to understand aged care, he said, and there are three things we must do to refocus and energise the sector.

Shifting attitudes on accountability is one. Who takes responsibility for the sector? For Pollaers this needs to be a combined effort from government, industry and the community.

Reforming access to the system is another big issue. According to him, the current fragmentation of the system and the assessment processes are deliberately designed to make access difficult.

Lastly, the system needs to have a consistent line on how best to enhance life, and to hold this as a principle of aged care. The sector needs a clear industry aim. For Pollaers, it is currently based on fear. Fear of guilt, fear of poor care and fear of burden.

'Undergraded and undervalued'

All of these changes hinge on an engaged, well skilled workforce.

The taskforce published a report last year outlining 14 actions for the current and future workforce that they believe will remedy some of the current sector ills.

“Undergraded and undervalued,” is how Pollaers describes the current workforce. Two parts of the 14-point strategy are aimed at improving career pathways and redefining the current recognised levels assigned to care roles.

Another important strategy is “establishing a new standard approach to workforce planning and skills mix modelling”.

A coherent and near standard approach to “living well” is a big step towards a new and improved aged care sector.

Tellingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, through consultation with the workforce, the taskforce found that the engagement level in aged care is the lowest of any industry.

“Twenty per cent of people don’t want to be here,” Pollaers said.

They also found through the same research that the views of the sector differ wildly between management and the hands-on care staff. Management on the whole said that there weren’t many problems and that work was fine, but as you went down the chain the less happy people were at work.

“Never have we seen this level of difference between management and employees... we need to address engagement,” Pollaers said.

Nursing Review spoke with Pollaers to unpack some of his findings.

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