This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
What are the policies we must implement to build a professionally recognised and appropriately remunerated global workforce of caregivers for the world’s rapidly aging population?
We will learn many lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, but one of the most urgent and obvious is the vulnerability of older populations to serious public health risks. Across OECD countries, nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths happened in care facilities and nursing homes—yet less than 1% of the population lives in those facilities.
COVID-19 demonstrated that the best place for all citizens to stay safe and healthy, especially aging adults, is in the home. And the vast majority of the older population—80% according to AARP—prefer it.
When—or if—they have that option.
The fact is that the world desperately needs millions of additional trained, professional caregivers to care for the world’s rapidly aging population. By 2050, the number of people worldwide aged 65 and over will more than double to 1.5 billion. This miracle of rising longevity means hundreds of millions of people will live longer, healthier, more productive and more fulfilling lives. It also increases the likelihood that hundreds of millions of additional people will need help (in their homes) with everyday tasks—or require more expensive (and, as we’ve seen, less safe) institutional care.
How big is the demand for professional caregivers? In OECD countries alone, 13.5 million new care workers will be needed by 2040 just to keep pace with where we are today.
Fixing this acute shortage of home care workers requires more than simply recruiting more people. It will also demand a dramatic shift in the way society views the caregiving profession and understands the value it delivers—not only for older adults needing care and their families, but also healthcare systems and government budgets worldwide.
To spur progress in reframing the home care profession in the public mind and elevating it as a rewarding career choice, Home Instead and the Global Coalition on Aging have just released a new report: Building the Caregiving Workforce Our Aging World Needs.
The report documents the growing demand for home care and the shortage of supply of caregivers, and offers practical solutions to help transform the caregiving profession into a robust, respected, thriving workforce on the scale needed to serve the world’s aging population. These recommendations aim to serve as a catalyst for change to foster collaboration and action between and among governments, NGOs, private industry and all healthcare stakeholders.
For starters, we must change public perceptions. In recent decades, the nursing and teaching professions have been successfully redefined to account for the contributions they make to individuals, families and communities. It is time for caregivers to be recognised as the skilled, well-trained professionals they are. The OECD’s “Beyond Applause” programme, which aims to draw attention to the essential work of care professionals, is an exciting new initiative that will help ensure care workers are appropriately appreciated and compensated for their work and the value they provide to families, communities and society. Further, understanding that those who excel in caregiving jobs are purpose-driven individuals with a passion to serve others, we can elevate the reputation of, and grow the caregiving field.
Another key component of achieving these objectives is standardising training and education to ensure high-level, consistent quality and accountability. At Home Instead, this is part of our DNA. We have learnt that a caregiver supported by their employer with training and skills development will stay, will grow and will excel. Government, healthcare experts and caregiving companies should work together to establish standards that boost respect for caregivers and confidence in their capabilities. Scaling this model will be the basis for a better and more effective elder caregiver workforce, and deploying these critical skills across the home care sector is essential for building this new 21st-century job opportunity.
We must also raise awareness of the potential of caregiving as a career of the future. Home care not only serves the needs of an aging global population; it also represents a potential job creation engine in maturing economies that need new sources of growth. In Europe and the United States, there has been a massive shift away from manufacturing jobs over the last 50 years. Artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies could put an estimated 57% of jobs at risk across the 37 OECD countries.
Unlike many fields, technology can enhance caregiving but will never replace it. When it comes to providing care, machines cannot provide the compassion, empathy, patience and trustworthiness of trained home care workers. Instead, technology innovations will supplement human skills, create efficiencies and enhance learning opportunities for a growing global workforce of caregivers.
In the report, we also recommend supporting and rewarding caregivers in ways that recognise the demands of their jobs and the value they provide. This includes competitive compensation and benefits to attract and retain long-term talent. It also means providing career paths where caregivers can continually build skills, advance in their careers and fulfill their passion to serve.
Our goal is to build a global workforce of professional caregivers capable of satisfying the desires of older people to age at home. By strongly integrating them into the overall healthcare ecosystem, we can lower costs while creating a dynamic continuum of care across the aging journey for people everywhere. The world’s growing aging population needs—and deserves—nothing less.
Read the full report: “Building the Caregiving Workforce Our Aging World Needs” and find out more about the essential truths that must shape the actions of policymakers to more effectively serve older adults around the world
Source: OECD Forum