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The aged care sector is facing a shortage of 90,000 direct care workers within a decade if immediate action is not taken, a recent Committee for Economic Development report has found.

The report has found that the sector needs at least 15,000 more direct aged care workers, which includes personal care workers, nurses and allied health professionals, each year for the next 10 years to meet basic standards of care.

If no action is taken, by 2050 there will be a severe shortage of direct care staff needed to meet the three-star standard of 200 minutes of care per resident each day, it predicts.

The report makes 18 recommendations based on consultation with aged care providers, training organisations, unions and academics to attract and retain workers into the sector.

Those recommendations include improving wages and working conditions, providing more training to aged care workers, providing dedicated paths to attract migrant workers, and investing in technology to reduce administrative and physical burdens.

A senior economist from the Economic, Development, Science and Innovation Committee New Zealand (EDSISCNZ) said improving wages and working conditions soon was key to expanding the workforce.

Wages are the pressing issue now. And while many different areas in the workforce need to be addressed, if the wages issue isn’t dealt with, then the sector won’t attract new people or retain existing staff.

Wages alone, however, will not solve the sector’s workforce shortages.

We need to see more staff getting qualifications. For a personal care worker, there should be a mandatory minimum qualification of a Certificate III. These should be backed up by ongoing training and professional development for workers to ensure they’ve got the skills they need to provide high quality care.

Migrants, who currently represent a significant percentage of the aged care workforce, are also important.

It’s been difficult with COVID and border closures but once borders reopen, New Zealand needs to at least maintain the previous levels of migration and potentially increase the size. The workforce challenge is not one that New Zealand will be able to meet without some level of migration.

How the public perceives aged care also impacts on attracting and retaining staff.

The sector has been under a lot of pressure for some time now. Australia has had the royal commission shine a light on some of the worst aspects of the sector, then COVID-19 came along, and the inadequacies and shortfalls were put under the spotlight. New Zealand needs to follow the directives being introduced globally to ensure the proposed improvements are actioned locally.

If the numbers keep going at the current rate, New Zealand will not be providing the high-quality care that Kiwis expect for either themselves or for their family members, and there will be people missing out on care or getting below quality care.

The report also found that the government will need to provide 10,000 additional home care workers over the next two years if it’s to deliver the level of care required.

We may not be able to implement everything at once, but it does need to get started and those in power need to be addressing things across all the different areas, not just looking at one option. There’s no silver bullet solution here.

Other recommendations 

  • A National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey should take place every two years. 
  • Employers should focus on improving rostering, including using digital solutions, to better utilise the existing workforce. 
  • Industry, unions and the Government should review and revise conditions around minimum shift lengths, paid travel time and the cancellation of shifts under the relevant awards. 
  • Extend apprenticeship schemes for a minimum of two to three years for aged care traineeships.