When you think of aged care, what comes to mind?

For many of us, it's nurses, care workers, and maybe physiotherapists

Image: Cowomen - Unsplash

But is that all there is?

When we think about growing older and needing care, we are reminded that it is our health and wellbeing that should be a priority. A priority that will be taken care of by nurses, care workers, and the allied health team. But do we have a workforce ready to respect and support our ageing population?

Over the coming 40 years, the number of people living beyond 100 years in Australia will be over 40,000 and the number of those over 65 will double [1].This increase will be accompanied by a doubling of the population of people aged 85 and over - those who are the main users of age services. It seems to me that to age well is to be respected and valued for wisdom, lived experiences and knowledge in later life. Ageing well also involves mobility within neighbourhoods, having access to specialised legal and financial support and knowing that businesses understand older adults and provide products and services tailored to their needs and demands. Clearly, we need more than nurses, care workers, and an allied health team to achieve this.

The age services industry is growing at an unprecedented rate, with an ever-increasing demand for an array of professional services, care innovation, and workers in clinical and non-clinical areas. However, industry statistics focus on clinical care workers (allied health, care assistants, and nurses) leading to the risk of both industry and Government misunderstanding the composition of the greater ageing sector professional workforce (that includes administration, IT, hospitality, executive, legal, finance, research, manufacturing, design etc). To facilitate ageing well we must develop a robust, innovative, diverse, and compassionate workforce. Yet identifying, recruiting and retaining quality, compassionate, and engaged staff is an incredibly complex undertaking.

The current average age of people in this sector is 10+ years greater than the National median workforce age of 37 (RAC 47.7; Home Care 52) [2]. In the next 10 years, 60% of the aged care workforce will enter retirement age which may lead to loss of knowledge and skills and inadequate transfer to the next generation of staff [3]. This could have a significant impact on care quality and safety and also an impact on providers’ ability to develop a robust and knowledgeable workforce.

Graduates and young people (Generation Y/Millennials (1980-94) and Generation Z (1995-2009)) are seeking careers of the future. They are looking for professions that are robust, future-proofed, and innovative. For many young people, aged care or age services industry are not even considered, pointing to a strong need to review how employers attract, recruit and retain younger employees, innovators, and change makers in age services.

Generation Y and Z are aware of and talking about ageing and aged care as their grandparents and parents begin to seek and access age services.With only around 25% of employees in aged care today under the age of 35 [4], now is the perfect time to foster an intergenerational workforce in this sector, and to recognise and acknowledge young leaders who are already building great initiatives, undertaking innovative research, inspiring teams, and leading. It's the perfect time for the age services industry to attract, nurture and support young people to lead, achieve and succeed in age service careers. Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) has developed a national initiative called Next Gen, to address this challenge of nurturing younger employees. Next Gen is attracting and inspiring the best and brightest young leaders and professionals passionate about the age services industry through Advisory Councils, innovative Forums, and collaborating with young people committed to supporting everyone to age well. Here are some of their comments:

"As an architect, I am dedicated to creating communities and environments which are inclusive, engaged, connected, intergenerational and diverse. I hope to inspire other young, ambitious architects to consider a sustainable career in the aged services industry. We need creative individuals, who are passionate about impacting society positively, to see the value and contribution they can make to improve the lives of ageing Australians and the workforce dedicated to supporting them."

"As a young Physiotherapist I was very focused on the sporting sector of healthcare. I would tell that young Physio that aged care is a health sector that will challenge your clinical skills like no other due to the complexity of comorbidities and will reward you personally to no end."

"I work for Meals on Wheels. I am a part of a team who is passionate about delivering nutritious meals to clients in our community and providing their families a peace of mind as we check in each day to deliver this meal. Part of my role is client visits and we have two centenarians! These chats are a great way of personalising our service and it allows me to be grounded and have a grasp on EXACTLY why this job is SO important. It is our point of difference, being a part of our client's lives as we make it easier for them to remain independent in their own homes. I am proud to be a part of an organisation that is run FOR the community BY the community- we really are more than just a meal to so many people"

LASA is ensuring that we share the journeys of these younger people and creating an awareness of the need for a sustainable and intergenerational workforce in the sector. Next Gen is a multidisciplinary initiative designed to promote the changing face of aged care and promote the age services industry to young professionals as dynamic, innovative and life changing. Together, younger and older generations (current and future employees) are changing our perceptions of aged care. It’s about recognising and addressing workforce challenges through succession planning and building the capacity of Next Gen leaders to see opportunities, develop new ideas, and execute change. And involving them in transforming the industry and ensuring that they are part of solutions that support us all to age well.

Next Gen focuses on supporting those in clinical and non-clinical roles. This entails engaging with current employees (in LASA and non-LASA organisations) across Australia from all levels of leadership. It encompasses a strong cross-organisational approach to support transition of industry knowledge and experiences between all leaders in the age services industry, ensuring best-practice and connection occur across workplace boundaries. Our focus is firmly on positivity and a community of young people supporting young people. We're all about recognising and disrupting our workforce challenges by building the capacity of our young leaders to develop new ideas, recognise the opportunities that surround them, and execute meaningful change. We welcome you to join us on this journey.

[Source: Samantha Bowen, Principal Advisor Next Gen at Leading Age Services Australia

samanthab@lasa.asn.au| +61 488 123 12| lasa.asn.au/lasa-next-gen]

[1] https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-03/2015_IGR.pdf

[2] https://agedcare.health.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1426/f/documents/03_2017/nacwcs_final_report_290317.pdf