Australia on brink of care worker crisis

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Australia will have a shortage of nearly 100,000 care workers within five years if urgent action is not taken to address the labour crisis, a study has found. 

The study conducted by the National Skills Commission last year found significant workplace issues and staff shortages in the care and support sector.

It found Australia will have a shortfall of around 100,000 care workers by 2027.

By 2049, it’s estimated there will be a workforce gap of around 212,000 full-time positions, with total demand for care and support workers double that in 2019.

But as the report’s full release was delayed, and data was collected prior to the historically low rates of unemployment, it’s likely the shortages already exist.

The report was also based on 2020 and early 2021 data before the Omicron COVID variant hit and impacted the sector even more.

In an update to the federal government in August this year, the skills commission found the low unemployment rate was likely to exacerbate imbalances between demand and supply in the care sector.

National Skills Commissioner Adam Boyton said the tight labour market was expected to have driven an increase in turnover rates and make it harder to replace workers who leave the industry.

He also flagged the report’s modelling for workforce shortages could occur sooner than anticipated.

“That in turn underscores, as the study highlighted, the need for a range of interventions to retain existing workers and attract more people into the care and support workforce,” he said. 

Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor said the former coalition government did not release the report when it was delivered to them more than 12 months ago. 

“The previous government’s failure to take action in response to the report has only compounded the problems the sector faces,” he said. 

“Australians deserve to know the truth. Locking a report in a drawer won’t trick Australians, who know there is a challenge that needs to be confronted.” 

However Opposition spokeswoman Sussan Ley has disputed that account, and has pointed to the coalition government publishing a national care and support workforce strategy in March 2022, after receiving the report.

Ms Ley accused Mr O’Connor of failing to read his briefing documents since coming into the ministerial role. 

“The coalition released a dedicated … strategy in March this year based on the very National Skills Commission report Labor is claiming was buried, the question is has Brendan O’Connor even read it?,” she told AAP.

“It is time Labor stopped being an opposition in government and got on with their job.”

Mr O’Connor said the Albanese government was committed to improving attraction, retention and the sustainability of the care workforce.

“I am also taking action to address the urgent skills crisis by establishing Jobs and Skills Australia,” he said.

“This is a key priority for me that will fast-track improved workforce planning, including the care sector.”


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