High rates of burnout among Australia’s overworked carers threatens to damage the development of the care sector, as experts predict it will be a key growth sector over the next five years.

Australia’s latest Skills Priority List showed four of the top 10 most in demand professions up to 2027 will be within the caring sector.

Experts say this demand for care work has the potential to create abundant job opportunities, all while incentivising informal caregivers to join the labour force.

But dissatisfaction from those within care fields reflect a need for workers to be better compensated if any of the potential economic benefits from such a trend are to be reached.

Disability care worker Jacee Kim said care work is not paid at a level that fairly reflects the skills and challenges involved in providing quality service to clients.

The 52-year-old from Pennant Hills said despite having certifications in understanding and managing epilepsy, childcare and medications management “I have to work at two different NDIS providers at the same time to support my family”.

In addition, with the ongoing pandemic, care workers continue to work in physical contact with co-workers and clients to deliver the best possible service despite the health risks.

Table showing top ten most in-demand jobs in Australia and the salary for each

Top ten most in-demand jobs in Australia and the average salary for each, data from SEEK

For Kim, working under the strains of the pandemic took a significant toll on her health.

“Our job is accompanied by a lot of mental and physical work… especially since the start of the pandemic, I had to pay a lot of attention to the safety of my clients so that they were not exposed to the virus because of me,” she said.

“That consumes a lot of energy, because I have to be alert at every moment. I even ended up developing carpal tunnel syndrome in my hand from the stress, and my doctor recommended (undergoing) surgery.”

Kim underwent three months of physical therapy to improve her condition enough to not need wrist surgery.

But despite the various hurdles she faces on the job, Kim said: “I value my job and want to create a healthy future with the clients I meet.”

Kim’s story is similar to that of many fellow care workers, with a survey of Disability Support Workers (DSWs) finding workers nationwide faced increased financial hardship, uncertainty and risked illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said recovery plans could be leveraged to support progress in the pillars of job quality identified in the OECD Job Quality framework, including earnings quality, labour market security, and the quality of the working environment.

Care worker looking at car rear-view mirror

Working conditions have put Sydney care worker Jacee Kim under repeated strain. Photo: Christina Lee.

Moreover, health professionals have called for a sustained effort to improve working conditions for Australian frontline healthcare workers, demanding a systems and government response.

Kim said she hopes for a better future for herself and her coworkers, adding: “I hope that governments and societies will be more proactive in promoting how these (care) services can transform people’s lives and lead them on a better path.”

Main photo by Christina Lee.