Nursing care worker shortage

As the nation’s population grays rapidly, the Japanese society is in desperate need of a sufficient number of workers who provide nursing care to elderly people. But a large number of nursing care workers are leaving their jobs every year, putting nursing care entities in a severe shortage of staffing. The central and local governments and such entities need to work out effective steps to help nursing care workers continue their work.

According to a fiscal 2013 survey by the Care Work Foundation, more than 20 percent of nursing care facilities, including intensive-care old people’s homes, and entities providing care services received at home said they suffer from shortage of workers. The shortage is particularly serious in urban areas where the elderly population is rapidly increasing.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that there were 1.49 million nursing care workers in fiscal 2012. But it forecasts that in fiscal 2025, when all of the postwar baby boomers will be at least 75 years old, Japan will need 2.37 million to 2.49 million care workers. This means that the nation has to secure an additional 880,000 to 1 million such workers.

Since fiscal 2000, when the nursing care public insurance system was introduced, the demand for nursing care workers has consistently exceeded the supply.

While the number of care workers has since increased 2.7-fold, the elderly population using care services has multiplied 3.2 times as of April 2013.

The biggest reason behind the shortage is the high turnover rate among care workers. In fiscal 2012, the rate stood at 17.0 percent, higher than the average of 14.8 percent for all industries. The rate came down to 16.6 percent in fiscal 2013, but that’s still too high.

Although it is often believed that low wages and severe working conditions characterized as “hard, dirty and physically dangerous” are the main reasons for the high turnover rate, the real situation appears to be a bit different.

In a fiscal 2012 survey by the Center for Social Welfare Promotion and National Examination, certified care workers gave “marriage, childbirth and child rearing” as the No. 1 cause for leaving their jobs, followed by “dissatisfaction with the basic ideas and operation of the nursing care entities and facilities” and the “human relations at work.”

It is notable that “low wages” was only the No. 4 reason for quitting the jobs. Nursing care facilities and entities providing care services should examine the survey results and realize that just raising wages will not necessarily encourage the care workers to continue to work.

It should be noted that only slightly more than 60 percent of the 1,086,000 registered certified care workers are actually working — although they are potentially important personnel who can serve as leaders in the care-giving services.

It is imperative for the national and local governments to study in detail the reasons for the high turnover rate among care workers and for certified care givers’ relatively low willingness to continue work, and to have care service entities review the operations of their services and improve the work environment for care workers.