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Aged care workforce

Australia’s aged care workforce

The aged care workforce is responsible for providing safe and high-quality care to people accessing aged care services in Australia including residential aged care, home care, Commonwealth Home Support Programme and other flexible care programs.

The aged care system offers a continuum of care under three main service types:

  • Home support (Commonwealth Home Support Programme) provides entry-level services focused on supporting individuals to undertake tasks of daily living to enable them to be more independent at home and in the community.
  • Home care (Home Care Packages Program) is a more structured, more comprehensive package of home-based support, provided over four levels from basic to high care needs.
  • Residential aged care provides support and accommodation for people who have been assessed as needing higher levels of care than can be provided in the home, and the option for 24-hour nursing care. Residential aged care is provided on either a permanent, or a temporary (respite) basis.

There are also several types of flexible care, and services for specific population groups such as:

  • Multi-Purpose Services provide aged care alongside health services in regional and remote areas.
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program provides culturally appropriate aged care at home and in the community.

Other flexible care services that are available and extend across the spectrum of home support to residential aged care include the Transition Care Programme, the Short-Term Restorative Care Programme, the Innovative Care Programme, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Community Nursing Program and Veterans’ Home Care .

A provider (or organisation) manages an aged care service. Providers may operate several different services, sometimes across different aged care service types. A service is a facility that provides aged care delivered in a residential facility or in the home. A service can also be an outlet that provides home support. The Australian Government assesses and approves home and residential aged care providers. Approved providers are subsidised by the Australian Government, making services more affordable and accessible to eligible care recipients.

For more information on aged care services in Australia see the Providers, services and places in aged care, the Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act or visit the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

Aged care workforce data sources

Aged care workforce data provides information on nurses, personal care workers and allied health professionals, as well as administrative and ancillary staff employed in aged care service settings. Workforce data are collected through various statistical collections in Australia including:

  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force Survey which contains estimates of employment, unemployment, underemployment, participation and hours worked including quarterly, monthly and yearly data.
  • The ABS Census of Population and Housing which is conducted every five years providing a rich snapshot of all people living in Australia on Census night. As a leading source of information for population groups and areas, the census allows the analysis of detailed labour market activity, industry, and occupation data.
  • The National Health Workforce Data Set combines data from the annual Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency registration process with the data from a workforce survey voluntarily completed at the time of registration. Data include demographic and employment information for registered health professionals.
  • The Aged Care Workforce Census which provides a periodic overview of the aged care sector workforce on the attributes and skills of the workforce central to delivering quality aged care services.

Data presented in most of these national workforce collections are limited to residential care services. These services are defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as primary activities of operation for accommodation for the aged, aged care hostels, nursing homes and residential care for the aged (ABS 2006). The reduced visibility of the majority of the workforce across the aged care sector poses a limitation on understanding the size and skills of the aged care workforce serving people using aged care in Australia. 

Figures below present recent findings from the ABS Census and Labour Force Survey on the characteristics of people employed in aged care residential services.

According to the 2021 Census, over 258,000 people were employed in aged care residential services (ABS 2023a).

Most of these employees were located in New South Wales (31%), Victoria (24%) and Queensland (21%). This is because most people using permanent residential aged care services were generally in these locations (see People using aged care).

Aged care workers

Within the various aged care services, care is provided by a range of workforce roles. There are a few main job groups that make up the aged care workforce:

  • Personal care workers, which include personal care worker and personal care worker formal traineeship job roles.
  • Nurses, which include enrolled nurses, nurse practitioners and registered nurse job roles.
  • Allied Health, which includes the following job roles; audiologist, chiropractor/osteopath, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker/practitioner, dietitian, diversional therapist, exercise physiologist, occupational therapist, pharmacist, physiotherapist, podiatrist, psychologist, social worker, speech therapist, allied health assistants and other (not specified) allied health professionals.
  • Administration, which includes administrative, management, and quality and education coordinator job roles.
  • Other, which includes pastoral/spiritual care workers, oral health professionals and those providing ancillary care. Ancillary care includes services such as cleaning, kitchen, gardening, and maintenance or labour.
  • Informal carers, including volunteers

Carers are an integral part of Australia’s health system and are the foundation of our aged, disability, palliative and community care systems. According to the 2018 ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, an estimated 2.65 million Australians provided informal caring support. In addition, there are millions of aged care volunteers across Australia. Volunteers play a vital role within aged care by providing important, non-clinical support that complements the role of aged care workers.

For more information on carers and volunteers, see Informal carers and Volunteers.

 

In Australia results from the 2021 Census reveal that:

  • Almost half (48%) of the employees in aged care residential services were Personal carers and assistants with the Australian Capital Territory having the greatest proportion of carers (55%) compared to other jurisdictions.
  • Over 1 in 3 (36%) employees in aged care residential services worked as nurses, allied health and welfare professionals, or managers and administrative professionals.

Aged care workers by age and sex

The age profiles of men and women working in residential aged care services differ. According to the ABS Census the aged care workforce remains largely female with around 4 in 5 (83%) people working in aged care residential services in 2021 identifying as female. Men who worked in residential aged care services tended to be younger with 55% aged under 45, while women tended to be older with over 50% aged 45 and over.

Aged care workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Australia is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world. Cultural and linguistic diversity can cover a range of characteristics including a person’s country of birth, ancestry, where their parents were born and what languages they speak.

In 2021:

  • just over 1 in 2 (51%) aged care residential service employees were born overseas with 36% of this group being born in Southern and Central Asian countries.
  • The top 5 most common countries of birth for aged care residential service employees who were born overseas were Nepal, India, Philippines, England and New Zealand.
  • Around 2 in 5 (39%) aged care residential service employees also spoke a language other than English at home.

Changes in the aged care workforce over time

The Labour Force Survey has revealed that over the last 10 years there has been an overall decline in the total number of people employed in residential care services. Over the period from 2014 to 2023;

  • The number of people employed in residential care services decreased from around 211,000 people in 2014 to around 188,000 people in 2023 – an 11% decrease. This may be explained, in part, by the decreasing numbers of people being admitted into residential care (see Admissions into aged care).
  • Between 2020 and 2022 the number of men employed in residential care services increased by 58%, while the number of women decreased by 7.8% over the same period.
  • The greatest decrease in the number of employees in residential care services occurred between 2022 and 2023, decreasing by 28%. This may be attributed to the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak had on most residential care facilities. There were close to 44,000 staff cases during the 2022–23 financial year (The Department 2023).

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2006. 8601 Aged Care Residential Services. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 10 January 2024.

ABS 2023a. TableBuilder. AIHW analysis using Census TableBuilder. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 November 2023.

ABS 2023b. Labour Force, Australia, Detailed. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 November 2023.

The Department (Department of Health and Aged Care) 2023. 2022–23 Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act 1997. Canberra: Department of Health and Aged Care. Viewed 10 January 2024.

Explore more about the aged care workforce in the results of the 2022-23 Aged Care Provider Workforce Survey in the next section.