A million-dollar ad campaign promoting a ‘rewarding and fulfilling’ career in the care and support sector is unlikely to increase the number of the burnt-out workforce as low wages , uncertain schedules and a lack of paid breaks remain, unions and advocates say.
The sector is haemorrhaging staff – and particularly home and community employers, who are funded to provide personal care to disabled or vulnerable older people living in their own homes.
An estimated 20% of the 20,000 workers have left the sector permanently as a result of Covid-19, said Home and Community Health Association chief executive Graeme Titcombe.
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Employers were required to quit workers over 70 or immunocompromised at the height of the pandemic, and most of them have not returned.
About 1,200 workers were unwilling to comply with the government’s vaccine mandate.
The ‘Life-Changing Careers’ campaign aims to attract more men and young people to the sector, which is predominantly made up of over-50s and women, said Paul Williams, head of marketing, communications and insights at Careerforce.
A live rolling counter on the site’s landing page reveals that there are “2,686 care and support jobs currently available” and a tagline “the life you change could be yours”.
Career paths include work in disability support, home and community, mental health and addictions, residential care for the elderly, social services and peer support, and work with young people.
A multiple-choice quiz, “Are you the kind of person who would make a good support worker?”, had more than 12,000 entrants, Williams said.
The website has attracted 142,052 visitors and 275,433 page views so far, but Williams could not say how many new recruits had signed up in response to the campaign.
“That won’t be achieved by a one-time campaign, and fundamentally rebalancing that workforce is a multi-year journey, and so hopefully we can keep that campaign alive for years to come.”
Disabled woman Matty Angel, who presented a petition to the government’s health select committee calling for an inquiry into the home care and support sector, said the campaign would only be effective when the fundamental issues of low pay and service monitoring would be resolved.
“A campaign bringing people into a broken system will simply see them burn out and leave, forcing more people to replace those who leave and will not be a sustainable model.”
Angel’s petition attracted over 600 signatures and many people from the disability community and their loved ones shared their horror stories for submission.
Titcombe said the association fully supported the publicity campaign but remained “frustrated” with the government’s slow action to address long-standing issues.
Support workers were leaving the industry for positions in hospitals, where they could earn more, he said.
He said a “paltry” 3% increase in statutory pay rates for support workers from July 1 would do nothing to address staffing shortages.
The campaign website says care and support workers can earn up to $27 an hour thanks to the landmark 2017 pay equity settlement.
The 3% increase brought the highest rate to $27.81 per hour, for those with a Level 4 qualification.
But Public Service Association (PSA) Deputy National Secretary Melissa Woolley said on average support workers would have a Tier 2 qualification and earn $23.70 an hour.
“The gains from the 2017 deal have been eroded because rates at the time were significantly above minimum wage. Now they are no longer.
The minimum wage in New Zealand has risen to $21.20 this year, while the living wage – the minimum “a worker needs to pay for the necessities of life and participate as an active citizen in the community” – was set at $23.65 per hour.
Woolley said a major issue for its 17,000 home care workers was the uncertainty of hours.
Employers can change working hours with only three weeks’ notice.
The union raised the issue with the government for many years, Woolley said.
“Anecdotally we’ve had members tell us they’re leaving the industry – yes, it’s about burnout, but it’s also about how companies sometimes treat them.
“PSA members tell us they don’t want to take time off because they’re worried their clients aren’t getting support.”
Mark Powell of Te Whatu Ora (Health New Zealand) told the health select committee that a task force had been set up to “accelerate the need for a better trained workforce in priority areas while strategic national workforce initiatives are implemented”.