Prospective nursing care workers and specialist care managers has been dwindling in number, even as the country continues to gray and the need for their services grows.
The decline is primarily attributed to the longer time it now takes to train as a care worker or care manager, but industry observers said that a combination of demanding responsibilities and relatively low pay are to blame.
Kiyomi Takano, 45, quit her job after working as a home-based care manager for five years, saying the job had kept her extremely busy.
Her tasks involved visiting elderly clients at home once a month, meetings, and working as a coordinator for doctors, nurses, families and private nursing care firms.
“I didn’t know whether I was working for people receiving nursing care services, or was just there for the paperwork,” she said. “Medical knowledge and communication skills are also required, and I came to a point where I thought I just couldn’t do it any longer.”
The position of expert care manager, whose job is to design care plans for the elderly, was created when Japan introduced a nursing care insurance system in 2000.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the average monthly wage for care managers in 2016 stood at ¥255,000 excluding overtime pay, compared with an average of ¥304,000 across all industries.
The number of people applying for care manager certification dropped to 124,000 in the fiscal year that ended in March, down from its peak of over 200,000 and about 10,000 less than the year before.
In the same year, only 16,000 — a record-low 13.1 percent — passed the exam.
Moriyasu Nomoto, a senior official at the Japan Care Manager Association, said one of the main reasons for the decrease is that the required period of practical training has almost doubled to 87 hours from 44 previously.
“It is difficult for those who want to be a care manager to take the training at their own expense,” he said, adding that finding the time to do also affects their existing work.
The number of people applying to take the national exam to qualify as a care worker has also decreased substantially as candidates are required to complete 450 hours of practical training ahead of time.
“The exam is now targeting those who really want to become care workers, so we should use this opportunity to boost their skills,” said Junya Ishimoto, chairman at the Japan Association of Certified Care Workers.
But Kazuyo Sakurai, who used to be a care worker and has authored books on the topic, said the current situation reflects the fact that society does not value people who work in the industry.
“If getting a qualification doesn’t lead to an improvement in working conditions, it’s natural that no one wants to take the exam,” he said.
“The lack of care managers will result in a lower quality of care and eventually the burden will be placed on the elderly and their families. Without improving working conditions, we will face a further shortfall in human resources.”
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