The first aged care workforce strategy – A Matter of Care – was delivered to parliament this week and its message was clear; we all have a role to play in improving aged care in Australia.
The overall sentiment of the strategy echoed many of the thoughts we have had over our ten years working with clients from the aged care sector. In short, government funding has the potential to make an impact on overall quality, but creating a long-term, sustainable solution requires a fundamental shift in how we perceive caring for our elderly.
The strategy, led by The Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, carried with it a sense of urgency. There should be no more waiting with an outstretched hand, no more playing the blame game. If we are to meet demand our aged care workforce needs to increase by more than 150% by 2050. Action must be taken now, for industry, government and the community to work together to shift the stigma and create an aged care industry we can all be proud of.
So what’s next? The workforce strategy is underpinned by 15 strategic actions to maintain focus on clear, actionable change. As an agency, we note its call for a strong social change campaign with great interest. Working with our aged care clients over the past ten years, we know the widespread impact positive stories of aged care can have on staff, residents and their families.
Perception vs. reality
Very few (if any) industries offer the same job security that aged care provides. From an economic perspective, it is one of Australia’s largest service industries, the conditions are very good in terms of award wages and training, and is growing at an exponential rate.
The current public narrative tells a different story. Deep consultation conducted with the community revealed that a key barrier to growing a quality aged care workforce is the sector’s poor efforts to communicate the many benefits of working in the industry.
Insights from the workforce strategy also highlighted that new entrants to the sector are often influenced by negative comments that are amplified by the media. These insights aren’t particularly surprising considering recent research conducted by our agency found that 41% of Australians have a negative view of aged care. How can we be expected to attract and retain quality staff if they are being told such a negative story?
The opportunity to tell a story
With the delivery of this strategy comes a clear opportunity to change the public and industry discourse surrounding a career in aged care. Taskforce chair Professor John Pollaers explains that reframing attitudes and perceptions will require more than organised, professional care across the board.
Society as a whole must address their attitudes to ageing because how we care for our older population reflects who we are as a nation. Storytelling is a powerful way to change aged care from a guilt-ridden burden, to an opportunity to enhance life and support an ongoing commitment to life-long health and wellbeing.
Not only will this attract and retain skilled and passionate care workers, but it will fundamentally shift the way we view aged care by tackling preconceived ideas and unifying us with the common goal to support the lives of our ageing community.
Communicating social impact
Government, providers, peak bodies – everyone has a role in communicating the positive impact of aged care to better position it as an attractive career choice. Despite our individual differences, everyone should be working continuously to create more social value for older people, their families, the communities we serve and society as a whole.
By investing in the community and making aged care a priority, we can begin to understand and measure the impact of aged care, and then communicate it and start to build a more positive narrative about the aged care experience.
Now is the time to act
It is becoming increasingly urgent for this strategy to be turned into action. As providers look to seek a competitive advantage, workforce is key. This is an opportunity to take the lead in attracting the future aged care workforce, through a positive image campaign that not only promotes care as an attractive career choice, but starts to shift the mentality of ageing in its entirety.