Blog Post
October 10, 2023

Rethinking people strategies for a sustainable future in aged care

The aged care workforce crisis is crippling organisations. Focusing on digitisation and employee retention with workforce management tools could help.

Table of Contents

In recent years, Australia's aged care sector has navigated an increasingly complicated landscape. From growing regulatory burdens to rising customer expectations and labour shortages, the industry is grappling with challenges that require a shift in both operational strategy and workforce management.

This growing complexity comes at a time when the ageing population is expanding, and the need for comprehensive, high-quality care is more acute than ever. For leaders committed to ensuring the long-term viability of their aged care facility, addressing these issues is not merely a matter of compliance or short-term problem-solving — it is crucial for building a sustainable future in the aged care sector.

Rising demand, falling availability: The aged care workforce crisis

As the need for care intensifies among Australia's older population, the sector faces an acute challenge of ever-rising demand. Alarmingly, this uptick in demand coincides with a struggle to attract and retain staff across various industries. According to Ceridian's 2023 Executive Survey, 66% of respondents from various sectors reported experiencing a labour shortage in the past year. Moreover, this trend shows no signs of abating, with 88% of respondents predicting that labour shortages are likely to persist over the next 12 months.

In aged care, this shortage is compounded by several factors. Changes in policy settings such as proposed mandated increases in staffing ratios mean that providers will likely need a bigger workforce. There's also intensifying competition for skilled workers across multiple care sectors — including disability and mental health. This competitive landscape becomes even more challenging given the increased demand for in-home care. More seniors are choosing to live independently at home for as long as possible, stretching the workforce thin across various care models.

A growing number of aged care facilities are beginning to explore the use of a contingent workforce as a viable solution. In our 2023 Executive Survey 54% of respondents said that using contingent workers had positively impacted their productivity, while half reported greater organisational agility. 

However, the current adoption of this model in aged care is remarkably low. A recent Productivity Commission report found that agency workers and independent contractors represent less than 4% of the aged care workforce. What's more, their roles are primarily to cover short-term staff absences and immediate vacancies, rather than serving as a sustainable, long-term staffing solution.

While creating a more “elastic” contingent workforce could plug some holes in this staffing shortfall, it is not without its own set of challenges. An overwhelming 91% of surveyed organisations reported difficulties in employing contingent workers, citing issues such as the scarcity of individuals with specific skills, compliance challenges, and the administrative burden of managing a more flexible workforce.

This is where technology can step in as a game-changer. Managing an elastic workforce requires robust technological solutions that can handle the unique complexities of aged care staffing — ranging from compliance with various rules and regulations to the specific needs and preferences of residents. A well-designed workforce management platform can streamline recruitment, onboarding, scheduling, and even ongoing training and development — thereby significantly reducing administrative burdens.

Rising customer expectations putting pressure on an already stretched workforce

Consumer expectations are escalating across various industries, and aged care is no exception to this trend. The landmark Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has not only captured public attention but also intensified the demand for quality care.

These elevated expectations are adding another layer of pressure on an already stretched workforce — the same workforce that was just beginning to find its footing after grappling with the burnout and operational challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need for skills — particularly specialised, industry-specific skills — is more critical than ever. According to Ceridian's global survey, a staggering 93% of organisations say they lack at least one essential skill type. When focused on the Australian and New Zealand context, 39% of respondents point to an acute need for industry-specific skills, such as those required in the aged care sector. Having the right workforce isn't just about numbers — it's about having staff with the right skills, certifications, and accreditations for the job.

In a recent Ceridian aged care webinar “Rethink the future of care with technology,”  Nigel Glasspool, Client Director at Pitcher Partners Melbourne, highlighted the importance of not just finding employees with the right skills, but ensuring those skills are nurtured and updated throughout their employment lifecycle. “This is where good learning management solutions come in,” Glasspool says. “Delivering interactive training in small, consumable packages are essential for ongoing skills development. Good learning management solutions are not just a nice-to-have — they are critical and can be a barrier to compliance if you don't have them.”

Navigating the waters of increased consumer expectations requires a multi-faceted approach. It's not just about meeting quantitative staffing ratios but also about ensuring the qualitative aspects of care meet the high standards residents and their families now demand. As aged care facilities move to address these evolving needs, technology platforms that aid in skills management and continuous learning will play an increasingly crucial role in both compliance and quality of care.

Manual culture and paper-based practices: A bottleneck in aged care management

Navigating the intricate web of regulations and compliance requirements in the aged care sector can result in an overwhelming administrative load. To stay agile and compliant, it's clear that aged care facilities must move past manual operations which have become more of a hindrance than a help. As Glasspool observed, “Any process that requires significant manual intervention is a red flag and needs to be thought of in terms of technology and how a system might assist you to deal with that issue.”

Despite the obvious need for automation and digitisation, many aged care organisations still cling to traditional, paper-based methods.

Louise Shields, Organisational Development Manager at Lutheran Aged Care Albury, noted that her organisation had been particularly attached to manual processes. “We had a very strong commitment to paper. Our Care Management System was the only widely used system that we had in place, and there was a real reluctance by staff to explore or use any other systems.” This reluctance put a significant strain on both operational and workforce efficiencies. However, a positive shift occurred when the organisation adopted Ceridian's workforce management software, dramatically streamlining its operations, and overcoming previous hesitations about adopting technology.

One area especially ripe for digitisation is employee rostering. Glasspool notes that many organisations are inconsistent in how they manage rosters, often juggling different systems and applications, which leads to an inaccurate understanding of staffing needs. Implementing automated timesheets is crucial for adapting to changing regulations around pay, ensuring that employees are paid correctly and on time. In a sector where reliable and transparent payment systems are foundational for staff engagement and retention, falling short is not an option.

The introduction of employee self-service tools also promises to bring both efficiency and equity to workforce management. These platforms enable more effective allocation of shifts and can even facilitate shift bidding, empowering employees to have more say in their schedules. This not only streamlines administrative tasks but contributes to greater staff satisfaction, further aiding in talent retention.

For aged care, moving past manual, paper-based systems is not just about keeping up with the times — it's about unlocking efficiencies that can make or break a facility's sustainability in an increasingly competitive and regulated landscape.

Building business resilience through workforce management software

For aged care facilities, the key to long-term sustainability and resilience is increasingly tied to effective workforce management. Traditional paper-based approaches are proving insufficient in a complex landscape shaped by regulatory burdens, rising consumer expectations, and fluctuating labour market conditions.

Given the acute labour shortages and skill gaps in the aged care sector, adopting advanced workforce management technologies is less of a choice and more of an imperative for facilities intent on maintaining high-quality care. The right solution will allow for better management of contingent workforces, critical in an industry where talent shortages are a pressing concern. Tools like automated shift allocation and employee self-service portals not only streamline operations but also contribute to employee engagement and retention.

In a sector where compliance is not just about meeting regulatory demands but also about ensuring the quality of care for a vulnerable population, real-time visibility is not a luxury — it's a necessity. Effective workforce management software can also significantly alleviate the administrative burdens of compliance, from maintaining accurate records for audit trails to automating timesheets in accordance with changing pay regulations.

By embracing workforce management technologies, aged care providers are not just better equipped to navigate immediate challenges but are also more agile and prepared for the future, from meeting the rising standards of care to integrating emerging technologies. Investing in such a system is a strategic move for aged care facilities that are serious about future-proofing their operations in an ever-changing landscape.

Download your copy of the 2023 Executive Survey and explore how leading aged care organisations are implementing transformative workforce strategies to cultivate an enduring and sustainable future in the sector.

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