The Australian aged care census and what it means for the future

17 May 2017 Alex McDonald


Earlier this year, the results of the 2016 National Aged Care Workforce census were released, providing a comparison to the last census conducted in 2012. The results revealed some interesting findings that came as a surprise to some, while for others merely reinforced their views.  

Firstly, it is important to note how the census was conducted. For sampling purposes, paper-based surveys were distributed to a selection of workers at the discretion of each residential facility. The variability as to how this was done leads us to expect the data to be skewed accordingly. The report only captures the results from 76% of residential care facilities, 42% of home care outlets, 50% of residential care workers and 26% of the home care workers surveyed. Regardless, the census has yielded some important results.

There has been an increase of 17% in the residential aged care workforce and a decrease of 13% in the home care workforce. This finding is surprising given the push for home care services to be delivered over and above those of residential care. In addition, the Department of Employment (2016) reported the anticipated growth rate in social services to be 19.8% whereas in residential aged care, it was expected to grow only 9% over a five year period to November 2020. With health care and social assistance services expected to be the largest share of employment growth in Australia by industry (23.2%) until 2020, more emphasis is needed on how to attract and retain workers in this industry.

The average age of residential care facility workers has decreased from 48 years in 2012 to 46 years in 2016, but in home care the median age has risen to 52 years in 2016, compared to 50 years in 2012. This suggests that the home care sector is attracting an older workforce in comparison to residential care workers. One possible explanation may be differences in recruitment methods used for recent hires in both sectors. For example, in residential care the most popular sourcing strategy was online job advertisements for 40.9% for nurses, 37.5% for personal care workers and 51.9% for allied health workers. In comparison, the most frequent sourcing method used in community care was word of mouth for 40.8% of nurses, 31.4% of community care workers and 20.6% of allied health workers. It is plausible that the increase in age within home care may be due to the peer referrals rather than other reasons.

Recent strategies to hire younger workers including using more attractive, vibrant advertisements and stronger connections to university programs may be showing their success in residential care settings. More needs to be done here, particularly around building internal cultures, policies and procedures that are attractive for younger workers. Good examples of this are stronger career progression opportunities, training programs tailored to individuals and wide-ranging reward programs.

Home care workers reported higher job satisfaction than residential care workers. Both workforces reported being attracted to the industry by the allure of flexible hours and available work, however 16% of home care workers and 10% of residential care workers held more than one job. In addition, 40% of home care workers wanted more hours compared to 30% of residential aged care workers who wanted to work longer hours. This suggests that the uncertainty of hours and the need for more regular shifts may have contributed to the skill shortages reported.

Skill shortages were reported when facilities found it difficult to hire or replace workers who had left.   In 2016, 53% of residential care facilities and 42% of home care outlets reported a skill shortage of some kind. This had reduced substantially from the skill shortages reported in 2012, which were 76% in residential care and 49% in community care.  This means that the industry, while still having trouble hiring certain staff members, is slowly improving its ability to attract and fill vacancies. To continue to close this gap in the future, a variety of recruitment methods including digital, social media and professional recruitment companies are needed to attract the right people that fit the organisation.

Noticeably absent was the lack of information on managers in aged care. While some evidence stated that 2.4% of care managers and 6.2% of care leaders had no formal qualification beyond year 12, over half of registered nurses sought training in management and leadership.  This is important because evidence suggests that “…nurse leaders and managers need to be able to readily access education that is relevant, meaningful, and can be applied to management and leadership practice.” (Dignam et al. 2012, p.69). The census results suggests that formal managerial qualifications were still low. Only 33.2% of care managers and 13.2% of care leaders had a formal qualification in management at Certificate III level or above, yet 50% of registered nurses in residential care and 40.5% of registered nurses in home care requested training in management and leadership over the next 12 months.  This suggests the demand for management and leadership training will continue to increase substantially and organisations should invest in this training for future managers to continue to create a positive work culture and retain quality workers.  

In conclusion, the census has reinforced what we already know – demand for a skilled workforce is increasing, while securing a reliable, steady talent supply is becoming increasingly difficult.  The existing aged care workforce is committed and stable, but reforms in home care and the potential future reforms in aged care means that the need to hire and retain quality aged care workers and managers is now more important than ever.  


Dr Katrina Radford is a Lecturer in the Department of International Business and Asian Studies within the Griffith Business School and is the Deputy Director, Research. She holds a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours), is a Certified Associate in Project Management, holds a Masters in Human Resource Management, and PhD (Griffith University). Dr Radford is one of the leading experts in the Aged Care Industry workforce, and The Orchard Talent Group is honoured to have her on our advisory committee.

Department of Employment (2016). Industry Employment Projections 2016 report. 
Dignam D., Duffield C., Stasa H., Gray J., Jackson D., and Daly J. (2012) Management and leadership in nursing: an Australian educational perspective. Journal of Nursing Management, 20 (1), 65-71