Experts are calling for more older workers as our population ages, saying that without men there will be severe worker shortages.
- Elderly care is dominated by women workers, even more so than construction is dominated by men
- Without huge growth, there won’t be enough workers to care for older Australians
- Low pay, cultural norms and stereotypes about caregiving roles hold men back
“It is hugely gender-skewed, the latest figures show almost 90% women in the sector,” says Dr Julie Moschion, associate professor at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne. .
“When you have such an imbalance in the workforce, it means that people from the minority – in the case of elderly care, men – might not see this as a good path for a career for they.”
Historically low pay rates, the perception of a poor career structure and cultural stereotypes around caregiving roles all stand in the way of hiring more male workers.
This prevents men from finding employment in a booming field open to people with different skill levels, which can be done in almost any suburb and town in Australia.
After more than a decade in the business, Ashish Sood hopes more men will join him.
“From the first shifts, I knew this was where I wanted to be – it’s very rewarding,” he says.
The industry has an “image problem”
The great imbalance of workers is not a new problem, nor are the enormous problems in the sector.
The scandals and systemic issues culminated in a scathing 2021 royal commission report that made 148 recommendations requiring billions of dollars in investment.
“The industry really has an image problem, and some of that is justified, but some of it isn’t,” says Cassandra Winzar, senior economist at the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA).
Ms. Winzar is not afraid of trouble. When it comes to the aged care workforce, the challenges are significant:
- The salary paid to orderlies is almost a third less than that of orderlies doing similar work
- A study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that more than 10% of aged care staff take second jobs to get by
- Within a decade, the number of Australians aged over 65 will drop to one in five (20%) from its current level of 16%.
- The elderly care workforce is growing at around 2% per year. But CEDA research suggests that unless this rate of growth doubles, we will be short 110,000 workers by the end of the decade.
And that growth is just to keep up with global “minimum” standards. As an increasing proportion of people are living longer and developing more complex needs, the projected workforce will fall far short of what is needed to provide ‘five star’ care.
“If we’re going to do something to increase the workforce, we need to look at some of these underrepresented groups,” Ms. Winzar said.
“And the most underrepresented group in the aged care workforce is actually men.”
Men employed in aged care find a rewarding career path there
The clouds surrounding the industry mask a recurring theme: workers profit.
“One thing that I always find really interesting is that if you look at job satisfaction surveys of older workers, they really like their jobs,” Winzar says.
“It’s a job where you can feel on a day-to-day basis that you’ve helped someone. And that’s an aspect of the industry that we don’t often hear about, and especially one that we don’t know about. really. selling to men as a rewarding career path.”
Darwin Llagas has worked in elderly care for seven years. Previously a cook, and “a bit of everything”, he sees his future in the retirement home.
At times, Mr Llagas is the only male member of staff in his home area in Scarborough, north Brisbane.
“Yeah, a lot of them are women and they’re very supportive, they look after you,” he says.
“There is nothing to worry about if you are a man and want to enter this industry.
“Knowing that you’re helping seniors get through their day…it’s very rewarding, you go home happy.”
Stereotypes about masculinity must change
But until stereotypes about masculinity and caring roles change, Dr Moschion from the University of Melbourne says there won’t be a big change in workers’ openness to taking up available jobs .
“It’s complex, because you’re trying to change the norms. They’ve taken in the fact that it’s not a good career for a man. And there are all these sorts of norms of masculinity that are deeply ingrained in men. people.
“But we’ve seen in, in reversing the male-dominated sectors, that by doing small things you can actually start changing the cycle. And once you start changing things little by little, you can have great long-term effects.”
Construction, engineering and financial services are all sectors that have long been dominated by men.
Change programs that have included apprenticeship programs, industry promotions and company-based hiring goals.
Progression and salary can be barriers
Overturning such an entrenched division will not be easy, but it can be done, according to Jessica Mizrahi, chief strategy officer at Accenture.
For her, the problems, for both men and women, are perception, progression and remuneration.
“And so it’s seen as not being really respected as a profession.”
Progression is tied to career paths and a precarious, part-time workforce that lacks agency and power.
“It’s quite difficult to climb the ladder so to speak,” adds Ms Mizrahi.
There are moves to displace the stubbornly low wages in the sector.
Most older workers are paid less than the national average wage of about $1,260 per week.
“But we can probably counter some of that by saying that while it’s below the national average, it’s also superior to many other traditional male roles,” she says.
“So, for example, a handyman or a cashier are both paid less on average than an older social worker.”
Mr. Sood works in Frankston, an outer suburb of Melbourne. He says things are changing.
“I’ve never encountered any resistance or awkward behavior towards myself – people are very supportive,” he says.
He knows the stereotypes – “nurses are always associated with women”.
But he sees the industry’s low wages as the key issue keeping men from considering elderly care work.
“You can make the same amount of money staying behind a servo’s counter (like) being in a nursing home,” he says.
But he says caring for the elderly has a feel-good factor.
“It’s just a really nice environment,” he says.
“It’s not like any other regular job. It’s not where you would just be standing in front of a machine and doing continuous work all day.
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