Businesses in the health and aged care industries are feeling the pinch of the labour shortage.
With employment in the industry expanding at double the pace of all others over the five years to May 2023, staffing is a key constraint.
Physiotherapist Antony Hirst has built up a practice with a business partner on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula over the past 22 years.
“It is a constant problem,” he said.
“It’s one of the major things affecting [practice owners’] growth is the inability to get and retain staff.”
Mr Hirst said that staff shortages often meant longer hours for existing employees and practitioners.
“The challenge is if you get short staffed then existing members or staff work in what I call the red zone, which just means that they’re just working really at their capacity as a practitioner, both physically and mentally.”
He said the longer hours mean some people decide to leave, which perpetuates the problem further. It’s was a common talking point among business owners in the sector.
“As a general trend, it’s often one of the first topics that’s discussed when you catch up with a practice owner.”
Mr Hirst and his business partner built Beleura Health Solutions up to 50 employees before selling a majority interest to then listed healthcare company Zenitas two years ago.
“Looking into early next year when I think a couple of our people might go travelling, who are we going to replace them with? So it’s a constant issue,” Mr Hirst said.
But it is not only in allied health services such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology, the challenge is widespread.
Healthcare and social assistance employs more Australians than any other industry, by a large margin. The 1.8 million-strong workforce is about 35 per cent larger than that of retail, the second biggest source of employment.
And the trend is only set to continue. The industry is projected to grow at 15 per cent over the next five years, according to ABS data, compared to an average of 7.1 per cent for the broader economy.
Mark de Vink, director of healthcare for recruitment company Hays, said growth in the sector has meant they’ve been building up their own team to meet demand.
“Healthcare is definitely very strong and buoyant and it’s probably more buoyant that other areas which have slowed,” Mr de Vink said.
“As many skilled professionals as we can find, we can probably find someone that wants them.”
Hays has seen a shortage of aged care workers in particular, according to Mr de Vink, driven by Australia’s ageing population.
An older population is the key factor pushing up demand for health workers, By 2031, the number of working-age people for each person over 65 years old will fall from close to five to three and a half, according to Parliamentary Budget Office.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme was also changing demand for workers, Mr de Vink said.
In March, social services minister Paul Fletcher said the NDIS would create demand for another 90,000 workers over the next five years.
And for NDIS providers based in regional areas a recent increase in rates they can claim for services provided under the scheme should support further demand for staff outside of urban centres.