Aged care providers want urgent changes to immigration rules to plug “gaping holes” in their caregiver and nursing workforces.
It comes as the Ministry of Social Development is partnering with the recruitment company Medcall to train 160 beneficiaries for aged care jobs.
But the aged care sector says while that is a start, it represents less than 20 percent of the caregivers needed each year to fill the gap.
The government’s initiative follows a successful pilot that launched in February, which found nearly 40 Auckland beneficiaries jobs in the aged care sector.
Aged care providers from eight regions will soon recruit another 160 beneficiaries.
Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni said this was a case of matching demand for jobs with those who want work.
But she said no one would be forced into jobs.
“First and foremost it’s about making sure that MSD clients are going into work that is sustainable and meaningful to them. We know that that makes the difference with respect to how long they stay in that employment and whether they end up back on benefit. This is not a situation, and we won’t be getting into a situation, where we are forcing people to take up particular work,” she said.
Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said the initiative did not address the gaping holes in the caregiving and nursing workforce.
Currently there are 85,000 people over the age of 85, which is expected to increase to 220,000 in 20 years time.
To meet that projected growth he said the aged care sector needed a thousand caregivers a year, each year for the next 10 years.
Last year’s pay equity settlement had not resulted in a surge of New Zealanders wanting to work in the sector, despite an increase in wages.
“Seventy percent of our caregivers are New Zealanders and we employ and train New Zealanders in these roles, but we’ve got a gap and we need to rely on immigration to be able to fill the gap in the workforce,” he said.
Mr Wallace said urgent changes were needed to immigration policy so the sector could retain good immigrant workers.
“We train and employ Kiwis but simply because of the growing aging population the fact that we’re at full employment in New Zealand at four percent, it means that we need a reliance on some immigration to fill those gaps because we just can’t find New Zealanders to do the roles,” he said.
Foxton’s Lonsdale Care Centres general manager Mark Buckley said today’s announcement was a start, but it wasn’t the whole solution and rural areas faced additional challenges.
He employed about 40 caregivers and said it took particular skills to do the job.
“Empathy, compassion, a real desire to work with the elderly and a real desire to work shift work, and that doesn’t always suit everybody,” he said.
Ms Sepuloni said this wasn’t the only way people could become caregivers.
“MSD’s not the only way and not the only agency or organisation that’s facilitating these job opportunities and as I said, some people choose to take a direct pathway through educational opportunities that exist through polytechnics and other places,” she said.
She’s confident the Ministry would be able to fill the 160 jobs and said if the scheme was successful it would look at increasing the number of places.
Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said one of the government’s top priorities was to better match the skills and talents that migrant workers bring with what’s needed in the country’s workforce.
He said work is currently underway to develop a more responsive immigration system and as that work progresses he will look at whether the changes which were brought in under the previous government that affect the aged care sector, are still fit for purpose.
At last year’s election Labour campaigned on reducing the number of immigrants, particularly in areas where the jobs could be filled by New Zealanders.