The Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) has launched a pilot program, in Aged Care, in Tonga. The program is to be delivered at the ‘Ahopanilolo Technical Institute (ATI) in Nuku’alofa and commenced on Monday 7 July, 2014 for six months.
The Aged Care program consists of 20 participants (16 female and 4 male) who have demonstrated interest, skills and experience in the industry. They will complete the program with both a Certificate III in Aged Care and Certificate III in Home and Community Care in December 2014.
APTC delivers qualifications accredited under the Australian Qualifications Framework, which are locally, regionally and internationally recognised. APTC is funded by the Australian Government, with campuses in five countries across the Pacific – Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. APTC is a centre of training excellence, supporting individuals to gain qualifications for a wide range of vocational careers.
In line with the increasing age profile in international labour markets such as Australia, skills shortages are predicted to increase. It is estimated that by 2050, there will only be 2.7 individuals of working age to support each Australian over the age of 65. Australia’s Community Services and Health Skills Industry Council also project there will be need for a total of between 830,000 and 1.3 million workers in Aged Care by 2050. The proportion of the direct care workforce that was born overseas has increased to 35% in residential facilities and 28% in community outlets.
According to APTC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ms Denise O’Brien, “partnerships with local TVET institutions in the Pacific ensure that we continue to deliver programs that are relevant to the Pacific Island countries in which we operate. We have identified a gap between the demand for skilled workers in the Aged Care industry, and a supply of appropriately skilled workers to fill this gap. The pilot program in Tonga is an example of a targeted approach to supporting labour mobility of Pacific Islanders who graduate from APTC”.
The decision to migrate must take into consideration other factors such as the cost of migration. By providing graduates of the Aged Care program with Australian qualifications which are internationally recognised, this ensures that graduates have the necessary skills to meet industry standards and are eligible for employment in the event of successful future migration.
The Tongan economy, like many other Pacific Island economies relies heavily on overseas remittances. These remittances contribute significantly to the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Sister Kieoma of ATI notes that “when Tongans have the opportunity to benefit from greener pastures elsewhere, they still have a love for their country and are willing to support and contribute not only to their own families but also to their villages and the communities in which they have grown up”.
The proposed benefits of this program extend beyond the lives of its graduates. Sister Kieoma goes on to point out that as part of their training, participants will visit the community, the hospitals and the ‘Alonga Centre as Tonga does not have any nursing homes. “The trainees will be able to share their skills with those who are taking care of the elderly to make a difference to the way in which they are looking after them,” she says.
Sister Kieoma also notes that, “there are a lot of changes and shifts in the culture as younger people become more educated and often, married couples are both employed so if they have elderly parents at home, in the future they will certainly need someone to take care of them”.
The CEO of the Tongan Ministry of Health, Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola reiterates these sentiments saying, “The initiative by APTC to strengthen ‘Ahopanilolo's capacity to undertake aged care training in Tonga should be highly commended. This is the start of close collaboration that will have sustainable economic benefits for both Tonga and Australia in terms of exploring feasible solutions to deal with future challenges of looking after an aging population in both countries.”