Skill shortages in health: innovative solutions using vocational education and training
Kilpatrick, SI and Johns, SM and Millar, P and Le, Q and Routley, GK, Skill shortages in health: innovative solutions using vocational education and training, Rural and Remote Health, 7, (1) pp. 623. ISSN 1445-6354 (2007) [Refereed Article]
INTRODUCTION: This article reports findings of a project funded by the Australian National Council for Vocational Education Research. The project explores solutions to current and projected skills shortages within the health and community services sector, from a vocational education and training perspective. Its purpose is to locate, analyse and disseminate information about innovative models of health training and service delivery that have been developed in response to skill shortages. METHODS: The article begins with a brief overview of Australian statistics and literature on the structure of the national health workforce and perceived skill shortages. The impact of location (state and rurality), demographics of the workforce, and other relevant factors, on health skill shortages is examined. Drawing on a synthesis of the Australian and international literature on innovative and effective models for addressing health skill shortages and nominations by key stakeholders within the health sector, over 70 models were identified. The models represent a mixture of innovative service delivery models and training solutions from Australia, as well as international examples that could be transposed to the Australian context. They include the skill ecosystem approach facilitated by the Australian National Training Authority Skill Ecosystem Project. Models were selected to represent diversity in terms of the nature of skill shortage addressed, barriers overcome in development of the model, healthcare specialisations, and different customer groups. RESULTS: Key barriers to the development of innovative solutions to skills shortages identified were: policy that is not sufficiently flexible to accommodate changing workplace needs; unwillingness to risk take in order to develop new models; delays in gaining endorsement/accreditation; current vocational education and training (VET) monitoring and reporting systems; issues related to working in partnership, including different cultures, ways of operating, priorities and timelines; workplace culture that is resistant to change; and organisational boundaries. For training-only models, additional barriers were: technology; low educational levels of trainees; lack of health professionals to provide training and/or supervision; and cost of training. Key enhancers for the development of models were identified as: commitment by all partners and co-location of partners; or effective communication channels. Key enhancers for model effectiveness were: first considering work tasks, competencies and job (re)design; high profile of the model within the community; community-based models; cultural fit; and evidence of direct link between skills development and employment, for example VET trained aged care workers upskilling for other health jobs. For training only models, additional enhancers were flexibility of partners in accommodating needs of trainees; low training costs; experienced clinical supervisors; and the provision of professional development to trainers. CONCLUSIONS: There needs to be a balance between short-term solutions to current skill shortages (training only), and medium to longer term solutions (job redesign, holistic approaches) that also address projected skills shortages. Models that focus on addressing skills shortages in aged care can provide a broad pathway to careers in health. Characteristics of models likely to be effective in addressing skill shortages are: responsibility for addressing skills shortage is shared between the health sector, education and training organisations and government, with employers taking a proactive role; the training component is complemented by a focus on retention of workers; models are either targeted at existing employees or identify a target group(s) who may not otherwise have considered a career in health.