By now, many across the aged care sector are aware of the statistics around our ageing population and with that the need to attract more people to work in community services, particularly aged care and disability services.
Thirty years ago, the over 65s made up just 11 per cent of our population (one in nine persons). Today, the over 65s make up 15 per cent of our population (one in seven), and forecasts project that this cohort will make up 18 per cent in 2027 (one in six). By 2047, one in five Australians (20 per cent) will be aged over 65.
A shortage of qualified candidates is no surprise, yet the need to revamp and reimagine career prospects across the profession is in desperate need of attention.
Over the past two years, positive disruption to the way we fund aged care and disability supports through the introduction of the NDIS and aged care reforms respectively, has provided an opportunity to re-orientate our workforce and question what it means to work in the sector. The scope for creating new roles and competencies has barely been addressed, leaving an opportunity for a dramatic redevelopment of pathways to choosing a career in community services.
VMCH has recently taken a step to reimagine its workforce, partly through the launch of a pilot program aimed at attracting new talent. The pilot has involved a number of like-minded parties working together. These include Emprevo (workforce technology), The Bridge Inc and Wingate Avenue Community Centre, both providers who support long termed unemployed to find suitable careers, and the Department of Employment for the State Government of Victoria under their Premiers Job Bank Program.
Ongoing social reforms provide a real opportunity to not only attract new people to the sector but also to retrain thinking in what it means to work alongside older people in the community. Developing the right proposition for clients who are fast becoming “customers” rather than recipients of services, the changes mean organisations need to step up to the new challenge of delivering customer-centric support services.
Bridget O’Shannassy, General Manager VMCH Mission, believes that people will “know good care” by how people are treated, through being compassionate and respectful.
“Our work can see people at their most vulnerable. Being customer-centric sounds very sales oriented but what it means for us is that we work hard at really understanding the “whole” person, what’s important to them and how they want to live their lives.”
With this in mind, VMCH jumped at the chance to create a model upskilling workforce to meet the clinical, emotional and spiritual needs of a person. This pilot program – program targets candidates who had previously taken the step to work in the sector.
“In partnership with Wingate Avenue Community Centre, Bridge Inc and the Premiers Job Bank, we’ve taken a small group who had shown initiative to undertake a Certificate 3 in Aged Care but have had little opportunity to enter the workforce,” Bridget said.
The initial pilot program provides this cohort with a chance to volunteer within residential aged care in conjunction with industry training and assessment to evaluate their readiness to work in the sector.
A buddy system is then introduced for those who progress to initial casual shifts followed by an offer of ongoing employment, should all criteria be satisfied.
With the pilot well underway, VMCH took the opportunity to consider the bigger question of how to develop employees from the beginning with the necessary skills to negotiate the individual needs of their clients.
Nyawarga Sham is mother of seven with a passion for working in community services. As a volunteer working with older people in her community, Nyawarga has no doubt her vocation is to help people in her local community.
“Older people need someone with a good heart. Older people need someone who can walk alongside them. In my heart, I need to help.”Nyawarga has started with VMCH at John R Hannah in Mulgrave and is already interested in understanding the VMCH approach to Pastoral Care, supported by the on-site Pastoral Care practitioner.
VMCH has taken the pilot one step further with a proposal to introduce a more comprehensive induction program, partnering with a range of tertiary providers and training organisations.
As a member organisation of Meaningful Ageing, the development of customers ready to ask providers how they will safeguard their needs from a spiritual perspective, is becoming a major consideration for choosing aged care.
“The future of aged care depends on organisations understanding what matters most to each person. This goes much deeper than a ‘customer service’ approach that is now being adopted by a number of providers in an attempt to attract business. Genuinely tuning in to each person’s need for meaning, purpose and connectedness creates an aged care environment that is better for older people, their families, and the staff that support them.”
An understanding of spirituality as being the other things that define a person, outside of clinical considerations, this approach ensures practitioners listen and respond to the wishes of each individual on their terms.
VMCH is taking a collaborative approach to its workforce and is committed to embracing change as the sector continues to grow.
“We believe by providing new candidates with this vital training and the expectation that they need to walk alongside a person on their terms, we will really raise the bar of workforce in the sector.”