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Benefits and challenges of a diverse workforce in aged care

11 June 20141 comment

shutterstock_128111129-resizedIncreasing cultural diversity among workers in the residential aged care sector presents unique benefits and opportunities but also brings management challenges, according to a leading expert.

Migrant workers now make up around 36 per cent of the residential aged care workforce – higher than it has ever been and also higher than other sectors.

According to sociologist Dr Debra King the growth of migrant worker numbers in aged care is proving a valuable resource but managers require special skills in managing a diverse workforce.

Dr King, Dean of the School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University and co-author of the National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey, said while a “reasonable proportion of migrants” in the aged care workforce was first noted in the 2003 census, the last census in 2012 identified the growth of migrants from Asia in particular.

Dr King said a many providers recognised the benefits of having migrant workers but there were cultural differences to be negotiated.

“Benefits were around increased cultural diversity and connecting with communities. Some of the problems were around communication, particularly for older people who have dementia because often they revert back to their primary language. That’s an issue if you have a carer and English is their second language,” she said.

“For instance, if you are from India there are hardly any residential aged care facilities, so there’s no cultural context within which to place nursing homes. They may not understand how you deal with old people in an institutional framework,” Dr King said.

Dr King and her co-authors surveyed 100 residential providers in 2007 to gain a deeper understanding of their workforces and the proportion of migrant workers.

She said that, in the main, the aged care sector was not actively recruiting migrant workers.

“Mostly what happens in aged care is you get the secondary migrants – people who studied here, or migrated with their spouse and they’re looking for a job, or their families are migrants,” she said.

While aged care was not targeting migrants, it was attracting them nonetheless because it was a growth area, Dr King said.

“There are always job opportunities. Also, it is highly mobile, and once you have your skills you can go anywhere to work in Australia.” 

Dr King said that further research was needed to determine why more migrants were working in residential care than in community care.

She speculated it could be because there was more “ethnic matching” of client and carer in community care, and as most of the current cohort of CALD seniors were from backgrounds such as Italy and Turkey there was a mismatch with the new migrant groups which were predominantly Asian.

“Also I think residential aged care has conditions that migrants look for. It provides more structure in the sense there are more regular hours, better training opportunities, and clear supervision, so there is someone there they can ask a question of,” she said.