When we reach the sunset of our lives, the inevitable question arises, who will take care of us?
Hong Kong, like many other developed economies, is facing a steadily ageing population.
And as people get older, so too are those who are taking care of them. For youngsters, the task of taking care of the elderly is not particularly enticing.
Nursery homes are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff. Many disappear after trying out for a week, or sometimes even after one day. The elderly care industry is facing an acute shortage of manpower.
Meanwhile, the city is ageing fast. In 2012, there were about one million people aged 65 or above, accounting for 14 percent of the population. And according to the latest projections, the number of the elderly will increase to 2.56 million by 2041. That will be one in every three residents.
The swelling ranks of senior citizens mean more jobs in the elderly services industry. The problem is how to attract youngsters to join the profession.
A pilot program called Youth Career Navigation Scheme in Elderly Services shows great promise in addressing the situation.
Under this “first hire, then train” project, which was launched last year, 200 young people aged between 17 to 24 were recruited and given basic training in elderly care before they started working.
The program has incorporated several unique features aimed at boosting the retention rate in the service.
First and foremost, recruits have a one-month buffer time before they actually work in elderly homes. During this period, all they do is observe elderly care professionals perform their duties.
Ho Laichun, director of nursing services at Oasis Nursing Home, said this period is important as it allows the young recruits to be mentally prepared for the actual work.
Another unique feature of the training program is that recruits only have to work 44 hours a week and they won’t have to work on night shifts in the first year.
There are also study subsidies and a clear-cut career path for the young recruits. This is especially attractive for applicants with relatively weaker academic records.
Youngsters in the program are provided with subsidies to pursue a Diploma in Health Studies offered by the Open University of Hong Kong. The training would allow them to provide comprehensive health care services for the elderly, disabled, patients suffering from psychiatric conditions and non-communicable diseases.
After one year, the trainees will be assessed, and those who qualify will be registered as health workers. They can further develop their career in care services by studying to become enrolled nurses.
So far the project has been successful in attracting young talents to the elderly service sector.
Out of the initial batch of 200 people recruited under the program, about 140 are now working in various elderly homes, or a retention rate of 70 percent. Based on the encouraging results, the quota will be expanded from 200 to 1,000 trainees in the next few years.
Thanks to the scheme, the average age of the frontline health workers at Oasis Nursing Home, one of the contract homes under the Social Welfare Department, has been lowered to 38 from 50-plus before the program started.
Injecting young blood into the senior care business is not without its challenges. For example, it was not an easy task for participating nursing homes to explain to their staff why the young trainees are being treated differently, said Ho.
But recruiting youngsters into the business is the only way for the elderly care industry to sustain itself and develop.
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