“Dire, unprecedented workforce challenges” as health and community services grow

a time for action

The health and community services workforce is predicted to grow by up to 77 per cent larger over the next 12 years to 2025, according to a new report from the government-funded Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC). But that growth will bring “dire, unprecedented workforce challenges” without urgent action.

The multimedia Environmental Scan (EScan) is an annual industry report, which brings together various sources of evidence-based data to provide a broad industry snapshot of workforce trends and predictions in the community services and health space.

EScan 2013 provides a sweeping summary of the strength of the care industry today and predictions for growth in the not too distant future.

Health and community services workforce could almost double in size

The report says the community services and health workforce currently accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s entire workforce and employs over 1.35 million workers throughout Australia. National industry data states that the health care and social assistance workforce employed almost 1.3 million employees in 2011.

Modest predictions in the report estimate an increase to 1.6 million workers (35 per cent rise) to generous estimates of near 2.1 million (77 per cent) in 2025.

“Every single person in the Australian community has, or not doubt will at some point, come into contact with the community services and health industry,” said CEO of CS&HISC, Rod Cooke.

“Whether it’s an enrolled nurse delivering care to the sick in an aged care facility, a child care worker looking after the needs of the young or a relationships counsellor providing advice down a telephone line, the work that community services and health staff perform touches everyone.”

CS&HISC says that industry analysis suggests that Australia’s ageing population; a related increased demand and expectation for quality services; and recent federal government reforms to promote consumer-directed funding and care models, will drive a marked increase in the demand for care services.

“Industry intelligence shows that the community services and health workforce is Australia’s fastest growing industry,” said Mr Cooke.

“EScan 2013 reports that the community services and health industry contributed over $85 billion a year to Australia’s national accounts in the 2011/12 financial year.

“We also know that Australia’s health care and social assistance industry was one of the main contributors to GDP and drivers of economic growth in the 2012 September quarter.”

According to this year’s EScan, health expenditure has increased by $53 billion over the last decade (from $77.5 billion in 2000-2001 to $130.3 billion in 2010-11) and in one year alone (from 2011 to 2012) the care services workforce grew almost five per cent.

“There’s currently more community service and health workers, more money being spent on health and an increase in the demand for care services,” said Mr Cooke.

“That’s proof of the importance and overwhelming contribution that the care service industry is making to Australia’s economy.

“But the economic value of what the industry does is only a drop in the ocean compared to the social value.  At the end of the day, the community services and health industry is all about ensuring people have access to the best care services and enjoy the highest quality of life possible.”

“Dire, unprecedented workforce challenges” ahead

EScan 2013 identifies that care services – which includes aged care, mental health, children’s services, disability care and Indigenous services – will face significant challenges that will not be met if the industry is unable to respond to changing industry demands for growth.

It recommends that workers and managers within the industry develop new skills to adapt to client-led care models.

“The community services and health industry will face dire, unprecedented workforce challenges unless the government and industry acts now to implement a structural solution,” said Mr Cooke.

“We believe an overwhelming proportion of the care services workforce will need to be VET-qualified. The consumer-focused workforce will be made up of an increased number of home and community, disability care, mental health, pastoral care, social housing and youth workers, as well as enrolled nurses, allied health and dental assistants and community development managers.

“We also expect that a number of volunteer carers will move into the formal disability care workforce as DisabilityCare Australia grows.”

Critical skills needed for a consumer-directed future, covered by VET-endorsed qualifications, will include financial management, service coordination and goal-based planning.

EScan 2013 suggests that future workforce challenges will also require the development of new training pathways, increased skills portability across aligned sectors – such as mental health, aged care and disability – and a renewed focus on quality for new training programs and a renewed focus on quality for new training programs.

“The more vocational, workplace skills and training a care service worker can achieve, the more prepared they will be to compete in the workforce marketplace of the future,” Mr Cooke said.

“And the more skilled and trained a workforce is, the more capable it will be in delivering quality care services.”

Key priorities for workforce planning in the community & health sectors

The report recommends four key priorities for community services & health organisations to focus on in the next 5 years. They are:

  1. Workers and managers within the industry need to develop new skills to adapt to the client-led model of care, particularly within autonomous care environments. Critical skills that training packages will need to incorporate include:
    • Service coordination
    • Financial management
    • Goal-based planning
  2. More sustainable workforce development models that make more efficient use of Higher Education (HE) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) based roles, and which provide more fluid pathways for workers to move between sectors and from VET-based to higher education-based roles and vice versa;
  3. Creating a common pathway of competencies, so that workers at all levels and across the industry (but particularly in aligned sectors, for example mental health, aged care and disability services) can respond appropriately to comorbidity and complex care needs. Common pathways, which have the potential to increase the retention of skilled workers, may assist career planning and development with the industry, provided cultural issues and hierarchies, are considered;
  4. Improving and supporting management and leadership capacity in a rapidly changing workforce development environment. This will create the drive for future workforce development and job redesign.

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