Young Indigenous people should consider a career in aged care, according to Australia’s new Minister for Indigenous Health and Aged Care Ken Wyatt.
Mr Wyatt said the coming years would see a shortage of aged care workers and big demands on the system.
“In aged care, I need more workers,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with NIT.
“I want to try to encourage young Aboriginal people to think about becoming workers within aged care, even if it is just as a stepping stone to a different future in the health arena. “Aged care is a great place to get into – it’s a great way of caring for people who need that level of care.
“As people we’ve been great at caring and sharing.
“I want to see if I can encourage some of our young people and even older ones to think about going into the aged care sector as a career pathway and for them to make choices later on to take a different pathway.”
Mr Wyatt made history late last month when he became the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed a federal government minister.
He told NIT he would champion both of his portfolios and hoped to leave lasting legacies in each area.
His first priority in aged care was to bring 100 providers together to talk about laying down a road map for aged care.
Mr Wyatt said the nation’s ageing population would make the future cost of aged care a challenge.
He said families could help by placing a higher value on elderly relatives and try to keep them within the family unit.
“I want to see what I see in other countries,” he said. “When I go to South East Asia, I don’t see old people in retirement villages – I see them active. I still see families surrounding them. And I still see the contribution they make to their community and to the economy of their country.
“I envy the way in which their families want them. I know sometimes we have to make decisions to put our ageing mum or dad or uncle or aunty into an aged care facility, but they should only go in when they are really frail.
“If my mum and dad were alive, I would have made sure (that) between my brothers and sisters we kept them active, kept them alive and kept them telling us the stories they would share with us, telling us about what happened when they were younger.”
Mr Wyatt said Indigenous communities had a long history of respecting their elders.
“We come from a cultural background where we respect our elders and we listen to our elders and we acknowledge them because they are the ones who open doors; they have given us their advice and it has helped shape and maintain our communities for more than 40,000 years, in some places 60,000 years,” he said.
“I hope to leave a legacy where Australians look at their ageing mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers and great uncles and aunties as still being a source of value for guidance, for wisdom and for support.”
Mr Wyatt said companies too should place a higher value on older workers.
“They are the most experienced in those older years and yet we don’t take them,” he said.
“I looked at the movie The Intern, which is about an older man returning to the workforce, but he just quietly provided advice to help the young woman who owned the company. It was great watching that.
“I see that in a number of businesses on an everyday basis. Just go to a Bunnings store and you’ll find an older Australian working with a younger Australian.
“There are some great examples where you can employ people across the continuum. I’ve had people say ‘If you keep older people working, it means younger people won’t get jobs’, but I think the future is changing rapidly.
“There will be different opportunities.”
Mr Wyatt recently opened a new high-tech aged care facility in Tweeds Head in New South Wales.
The Feros Care Lifelink Experience Centre will allow people in New South Wales and Queensland to better learn how technology can help them.