A shortage in care and support services is looming as the New Zealand population ages.

In the next three years   an extra 16,000 carers and support workers will be needed across healthcare, aged care and disability sectors.

There are already 55,000 care and support workers employed in the area but they’re an ageing work population.

Industry experts believe tapping into a younger workforce is vital in solving the employee shortage.

Twenty-three-year-old activity assistant Emma Holmes is six months into an  apprenticeship in diversional therapy.

She has worked at Sprott House, a residential aged care facility in Karori, as a carer and activity assistant for the last couple of years. Most of her co-workers are older than her and she said at first, her friends and parents thought it was odd she took this career path.

“For me, it’s just about doing a job that’s worthwhile and I feel like this job is worthwhile.”

She wouldn’t call her workplace understaffed but saw there was a growing need for workers.

“It’s always been that if we had more people, we could do more,” she said.

That growing need comes as no surprise to Careerforce chief executive officer Ray Lind.

As CEO of an industry training organisation, he said there was a “massive job” ahead to help the health and wellbeing industry keep up with service demand.

“We have a growing ageing population that is giving way to more complex health conditions resulting in skills gaps and we have an ageing workforce.”

Figures from Stats NZ show the number of people aged 65 and over has doubled since 1980 and is likely to double again by 2036, as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement.

Currently, three quarters of workers in aged care are over 45 and most fall in an age bracket between 55 and 64.

Lind said tapping into school-leavers and a younger workforce was vital in meeting the forecast shortages and helping prevent further healthcare costs down the line.

The national body for industry training organisations, the Industry Training Federation (ITF), commissioned research two years ago around the needs of the health and wellbeing industry.

That showed 16,400 workers were required in the healthcare, aged care and community and disability sectors by 2021.

In addition, the mental health and addiction sector needed 2230 new workers in the same time frame.

Lind said building up the workforce now could help ease pressures on the health system down the line.

“If the care and support workforce is well trained, nurses and doctors will have the confidence to let them work at the top of their scope. Everybody wins,” Lind said.

In the past, many carer and support jobs went with low pay, but the pay equity settlement in 2017 did much to make the industry more appealing as pay rates rose between 15 and 50 per cent.

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