Last year home and community support worker Tamara Baddeley spoke to INsite about the realities of her job. With her new post-pay equity wage rate, Baddeley was pleased that support workers were finally getting acknowledged.

“It finally recognises the skills and responsibilities we have, and acknowledges that it is a physically, mentally and emotionally tough job, that has been unappreciated by many for too long,” she said.

Baddeley is one of a 16,000 strong workforce serving approximately 75,000 people older adults as well as disabled people and those recovering from injury. Yet despite its size and importance, the home and community support services workforce often plays second fiddle to the workforce in other health sectors such as hospital care, aged residential care and mental health and addiction.

A new workforce report produced by the Home & Community Health Association (HCHA) and commissioned by Careerforce, Spreading our Wings – A Report into the Training and Development Needs of the Health & Disability Home and Community Workforce, looks at the challenges and opportunities confronting this workforce.

One of the main issues emerging was that demand for home and community support services will continue to grow, thanks to an aging population with increasingly complex needs. Meanwhile 55 per cent of support workers are aged 55 or over, suggesting that it could be difficult to meet these demands in time. The report also identifies that more resources are needed to develop a culturally responsive workforce and address literacy issues.

The report, the first for this sector, came up with an initial 22 recommendations to support future workforce development, noting that working collaboratively, much can be done.

Andrea McLeod, HCHA Chairperson, was not surprised by the main findings in the report, but feels strongly that the lack of workforce modelling for this workforce poses a red flag.

“The report confirmed concerns we have about our workforce, in terms of aging and supply.  The home support workforce is generally older than other health workforces, and there is not an obvious pool of replacements. This is a big challenge. Training is also an issue – both in terms of funding and in having qualifications that are a good fit and are flexible for clients and services.”

Like many health services, home and community support services are financially stretched. According to the HCHA, this represents a significant problem as the services being provided need to grow to be responsive to increasing needs, more client choice, more integrated health care, and the impacts of technology.

McLeod expects that this report will be very useful for providers as they review their workforce development plans, think about their responses to clients, and prepare for service reviews.

“We all need to work very collaboratively, and strongly recommend that funders use the document as a reference, checking its content and data against their service planning and client analysis. We expect that Health Workforce NZ, ACC, the Ministry of Health and MBIE will find the document very useful as part of their broader health workforce modelling and resourcing work.  We also expect that the report will inform qualification development and training support provided by Careerforce.”

Careerforce General Manager for Business Development Gill Genet says Careerforce is establishing a joint work programme with the HCHA, to ensure key findings from the report are actioned.

“We need to understand the needs of the employer’s clients today and tomorrow, if we are to build a workforce that supports population health and community wellbeing. Client need information impacts on workforce development, including guidance on the new roles this sector needs.”

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