In this interview, Inside Ageing spoke with Tim Hicks, Executive General Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Bolton Clarke, about a recent research report compiled by the not-for-profit, looking at aged care workforce data ahead of the October 1 care minutes deadline.
According to the research, the labour market for Registered Nurses (RNs) remains highly competitive, characterised by significant employment growth, increased working hours, and a surge in job advertisements. Although there is a rise in the supply of RNs, it lags behind the rate of employment growth. Residential care providers have marginally increased their RN staffing levels from FY22 to Q3 of FY23. However, to meet the October 2023 staffing targets, a substantial acceleration in hiring is required, which is challenging due to the strong demand for RNs relative to their supply. The increase in RN staffing has been largely facilitated by agency staff.
The number of registered RNs increased by about 9,000 in the year to June 2023, slightly slower than the previous year. Registered ENs have significantly declined, likely due to retirements.
Mr Hicks claims the current situation is characterised by the movement of RNs from one place to another.
“We’re seeing movements of staff within the health sector, including from other aged care providers, as opposed to an increase in overall supply to meet the sector-wide goal,” he said.
For Personal Care Workers (PCWs), the labour market is showing signs of easing, with a decline in employment despite previous growth. However, this decrease is offset by an increase in the number of hours worked. Job advertisements for PCW positions have also declined, likely influenced by slight labour market slack resulting from economic slowdowns due to higher interest rates. Additionally, the increase in PCW staffing in residential care has been driven, to a large extent, by greater agency usage.
Mr Hicks cited jobs data from multiple sources including Jobs & Skills Australia, Seek, plus industry data from the government and StewartBrown.
The labour market for Enrolled Nurses (ENs) has witnessed a slight decline in both employment levels and hours worked. This trend is primarily attributed to reduced EN registrations. Job advertisements for EN positions remain strong despite the decrease in overall employment and working hours.
Achieving care minutes a challenge
In the residential care sector, staffing targets for direct care minutes per resident per day remain challenging. In October 2022, average direct care staffing was 176.9 minutes per resident per day, including 27.1 minutes by Registered Nurses (RNs).
Subsequent data showed slight progress, reaching 186.5 total minutes and 30.5 RN minutes by September 2022. However, a significant gap exists between official and StewartBrown figures, with potential reasons including changes in reporting methods.
Attrition rate reduction
Speaking specifically about Bolton Clarke (an employer of over 12,000 people), Hicks claimed that efforts to reduce attrition rates have been successful, with rates now below pre-pandemic levels. He cited the 15% pay increase as being helpful in retaining and attracting staff.
Other efforts unique to Bolton Clarke include using a referral program where workers are paid a commission for recommending friends for job vacancies.
“We use the Care Friends app and it has been largely successful. We should pay a fee to staff members for a successful hire as opposed to a recruitment agency,” Hicks added.
Challenges interpreting home care data
The report cites the interpretation of home care hours worked data as complex due to extensive brokered/subcontracted services. StewartBrown suggests brokered services make up about 50% of internal costs. This could result from sampling or reporting errors, with reporting issues being the likely explanation. Overall staffing minutes appear relatively stable in both datasets, despite some volatility in StewartBrown figures.