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Aged care drawbacks: What must change to attract young Aussies to the sector?

What pushes a worker to enter, stay or leave aged care?

That was the question a Flinders University study unpacked as the sector braces for future workforce shortages.

It found work-related stress, lack of career progression and a dearth of up-skilling opportunities were among the key drawbacks.

Published in the International Nursing Review, the study involved 32 aged care staff working for not for profit organisations.

Lead author Professor Lily Xiao said more needs to be done by policymakers and employers to attract and retain workers seeking certainty and opportunities for their career development to help eliminate ongoing issues in the sector.

“Participants perceived inadequate staffing levels were the main sources of stress they experienced in the workplace and influenced their intention to leave the job,” said Xiao.

“They also reported that managers who lacked nursing care knowledge and were not approachable for staff to share their thoughts and ideas, but who made integral decisions made their day-to-day work more difficult. On the contrary, managers and supervisors who developed social bonds with team members and shared decision making with the team attracted staff to stay.”

Xiao added that employer-sponsored education enables staff to develop their careers and could be a deciding factor for a nurse considering a new venture.

“Staff expect paid education to develop their leadership and teamwork skills.

“Strong leadership in the aged care workforce has been found to contribute to staff intention to remain. Continuing education and mentorship for managers and registered nurses to develop knowledge about staff issues and effective leadership will help reduce staff turnover.”

These sentiments were echoed in the counsel assisting’s final report to the aged care royal commission.

In their wrap up, the lawyers wrote that “there are not enough aged care workers”.

“Inadequate staffing, skill mix and training are some of the key contributors to substandard care in the current system,” they said.

The counsel assisting added that difficulties attracting enough people with the right skills to work in aged care can be explained, in part, “by the lack of competitive employment conditions and poor workforce planning and strategy by the Australian Government and the aged care sector”.

“There are also difficulties retaining workers. Approved providers could ensure better employee satisfaction and job retention through an improved work environment where employee feedback is valued and considered.”

In an earlier submission, the lawyers said the royal commissioners have the opportunity to set the policy parameters to provide aged care workers with the training and support that they need to have a fulfilling career, “with opportunities for professional development and an attractive career trajectory”.

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