Five central questions for boards

White paper with pen in meeting room

Understanding the impact of the current labour market is important but more critical are the steps organisations take to address this risk, writes Joe Zabar.

Around 300,000 jobs were advertised in August 2022, a 37.7% increase from the same time last year, according to the latest National Skills Commission’s Skills Priority List. These numbers are amongst the highest ever recorded on the Internet Vacancy Index, in operation since 2006.

Despite the ongoing demand for workers, the report found that 70% of employers with unfilled vacancies would continue to readvertise vacancies in the same way and platforms, with only 5% changing the position requirements and 3% changing their job advertisement.

Competition for workers across the Australian labour market, and in particular within the care and support sector, will require Boards to ask some important questions of their management, the result of which may necessitate changes to their organisation’s workforce strategy.

With organisations in the care and support sector regularly reporting staff turnover rates in excess of 35 per cent per year, and predictions of a worker shortfall across the aged care and disability support sector to be as many as 200,000 workers over the coming years, any thoughts of returning to pre-pandemic ways of retaining and recruiting workers have all but evaporated.

The sector is entering into a new paradigm, one where the risk of not finding enough workers to sustain the business is real and ever present.

In today’s operating environment, boards should be asking themselves and their management the following five questions:

  1. What are our staff turnover, retention and staff engagement/satisfaction rates?
  2. How do these rates impact the quality of our services and reputation?
  3. What do these rates mean for our business continuity and bottom line?
  4. What innovations in workforce management are we working on to try and turn this around? and
  5. How can we, the board, support this work?

There are some providers in the care and support sector that are successfully navigating the current workforce shortages with innovative retention and attraction practices. For these organisations, information about the organisation’s staff turnover, retention and staff engagement/satisfaction rates will be a regular feature of the reporting offered to and considered by their Boards. For these organisations, Boards will be turning their minds to issues such as quality of service and reputation as well as determining what, if any, impact the current workforce shortages will have on their current and future sustainability. Within these deliberations will come the inevitable questions about actions/investments needed to secure the ongoing viability of the organisation.

For those organisations barely surviving, the current workforce issues may simply be too much and lead them to reduce their service offerings or exit the sector all together.

There is no simple, single solution to the current workforce shortages. Indeed, the very nature of this sector - comprising for-profit and not-for-profit providers, of varying size, service offerings and locations - requires a sophisticated multifaceted approach to understanding and addressing the current workforce issues.

There is of course a role for the Australian Government in helping to address the workforce shortages in this sector. As chief stewards of the care and support services systems, the Australian Government will continue to play an important role in ensuring the ongoing delivery of services. That must, by necessity, include an appropriate level of funding for services provided to the care and support sector as well as focussing on policy measures which will secure a pipeline of workers to meet current and future demands.

However, the government cannot do all of the heavy lifting. Employers in the care and support sector will need to apply their entrepreneurial skills and expertise to minimise staff turnover and maximise staff retention and attraction. Decent pay and conditions are an essential part of any strategy to attract and retain workers in this sector. There will also be a need to focus on more flexible and innovative approaches to job design and how and where employers focus their efforts in attracting new employees to their organisations.

Board members have a vital role to play in helping to address workforce retention and attraction issues for their organisations. Asking the right questions of their management is the first critical step in that process.

Failing to deal with the workforce challenges in the care and support sector will only make life harder for those people reliant upon it.


Joe Zabar is the strategy adviser for the Boosting the Local Care Workforce (BLCW) Program.