Three ways Australia can expand its healthcare workforce

WORDS: Mr. Kunal Sawhney , CEO , Kalkine Group PHOTOGRAPHY Kalkine Media

After sailing through a series of headwinds, such as the pandemic-related health crisis and inflationary pressures, Australia is now facing another critical challenge – an acute shortage of workers. The issue seems to be more profound in the healthcare sector, where there is a dire need for skilled workers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic ensued, Australia observed several drastic changes in its economy, especially after being physically isolated from the rest of the world. Closed international borders led to slower economic growth in the country, which has been heavily dependent on the immigrant population for years. The lack of immigrants in the country further hampered activity across a range of integral sectors, including healthcare.

Along with closed borders, poor working conditions forced some workers to quit their jobs in the healthcare industry and work in fast-food restaurants. Most importantly, increasing costs of living created a more pressing need for wage hikes in these crucial sectors. The current scenario demands a long-term solution for the healthcare sector as Australia continues to face a lack of sufficient workers despite the recent re-opening of international borders.

Against this backdrop, let us discuss three ways in which the Australian healthcare sector can expand its workforce:

1.   Boosting skilled immigration

The Australian government has introduced a range of immigration programs for the foreign population that incentivise shifting to the country on a work visa. One such initiative is the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL), which includes a number of skilled vocations vital to the country’s economic revival. As part of the program, eligible candidates meeting the set requirements can travel to Australia without a visa.

Building on such initiatives, the Australian government can now focus on developing targeted skilled migration programs that can benefit the healthcare sector specifically. The visa requirements can be eased, allowing culturally and linguistically diverse groups to help contribute to the healthcare sector.

2.   Learning from other nations

The unprecedented circumstances presented by the pandemic have required swift and efficient action, which also includes a shift toward telehealth services. In a way, telehealth has helped fight labour shortages during the pandemic, especially in situations where less expertise was required from workers.

Moreover, several countries have battled worker shortages by introducing novel policies in the healthcare sector. Some countries have called upon nursing and medical students to work in clinical practice while allowing final year medical students to graduate early and join the workforce.

Few nations even allowed retired or inactive healthcare staff to join the medical workforce and help during the crisis. Such voluntary efforts were placed to develop a robust COVID-19 response. Apart from these measures, a simple and efficient way to retain the existing workforce can be to make the working conditions better for domestic workers.

Some ad-hoc strategies can also be introduced to manage a crisis-like situation. Allowing a more flexible intake of workers into the healthcare sector can be the easiest way to start.

1.   Incorporating pandemic-friendly working conditions

Australia can also boost the adoption of technology in the healthcare sector to fill in for the absent workforce. During the pandemic, many physical restrictions were implemented, which led to a major shift toward technologically backed healthcare services across countries.

The pandemic brought forth changes that had previously seemed impossible, paving the way for a range of tech innovations. The introduction of remote monitoring devices, incorporation of cloud-based services in health data transmission and provision of healthcare advice over video calls are some of the creations that the pandemic has birthed.

These innovations could work as a double-edged sword in the healthcare sector, helping Australia to meet the worker shortage, but only to a certain extent.

It seems the Australian healthcare industry needs a makeover that focuses on the welfare of its staff and professionals. The government can introduce salary incentives and other benefits to retain the workforce in the long run. It can also take a cue from foreign nations to mitigate the dangers of a crisis even when workers are less in number. These small changes can help build a resilient healthcare system that is impervious to shocks like a spike in infections and an extreme lack of workers.

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