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Planning an effective veterinary workforce
Planning an effective veterinary workforce is one of the AVA's five strategic priorities.
Veterinarians have important roles to play in animal, human and community wellbeing. It’s essential that the nation has the right number of vets to meet the needs of Australia’s animals and their owners, that those vets have the right skills and are the right places.
Veterinarians in rural and regional areas ensure the safety of the food we eat and export, care for the health and welfare of livestock, and are necessary to help identify and respond to a serious disease outbreak. Two-thirds of households include companion animals, and pets are increasingly valued as important family members. Pet ownership has demonstrated advantages to people’s health and wellbeing, and contributes to strong communities. Effective workforce planning seeks to ensure that these critical roles are filled and the veterinary profession has a healthy and sustainable future in Australia.
Supply and demand
There have been concerns within the profession for some time about a potential future imbalance between the veterinary workforce and the demand for their services. Over the past 15 years the establishment of three new veterinary schools combined with increased student intakes from the existing schools led to a significant growth in the number of veterinary graduates. There are reports that indicate a recent increase in unemployment among new graduates; we have seen a reduction in the income of veterinary graduates compared with professionals who have obtained similar professional degrees. There has also been proposed higher education changes that would have increased the cost of a veterinary degree significantly.
In 2015, the AVA commissioned the Australian veterinary workforce modelling report to provide Australia’s first major, long-term national projections for the veterinary workforce and to present the best available information to inform the planning for the profession’s future veterinary workforce. The report was produced by independent and respected workforce planning experts, based on best available data. The tools and methodology are the same as those used by Health Workforce Australia to assess the human health workforce.
This report and the computer simulation model provide a sound evidence base to inform essential, coordinated, long-term reforms by government, the profession and higher education providers to secure a sustainable and affordable veterinary workforce capable of maintaining high quality veterinary care.
The projections contained in Australian veterinary workforce modelling report show that unless we initiate change, Australia will experience a significant oversupply of veterinarians. Significant unemployment or underemployment is likely unless fewer veterinarians are trained or new demand for services is generated.
The workforce modelling report also shows clearly that we are heading towards a significant undersupply of government veterinarians, the only sector of the profession where this is the case. Governments need to be proactively employing and training younger graduates to fill the gap as older government veterinarians retire, and governments should also be investing in the development and retention of those already working in government roles to ensure their expertise is not lost. These roles are critical to biosecurity, food safety and our agricultural industries. There is particular concern over an impending shortage of trained veterinary pathologists to work in government animal health laboratories.
In 2015 the government announced changes to higher education that would have decreased funding to universities, removed the limit on fees universities could charge and increase the interest rate for higher education loans. The AVA's financial modelling figures demonstrated that the changes would adversely impact veterinary students more than any other group due to the length of the course, its high cost to deliver, the relatively lower income of veterinarians compared to others with similarly expensive courses. While the government has delayed these changes for the moment, the debate continues around the funding of universities and the associated student fees.
Our program includes three streams – veterinary workforce advocacy, government veterinary workforce and higher education reform. The purpose of the program is to identify tangible goals to ensure a sustainable, effective veterinary workforce, and set in place an action plan to achieve those specific goals.
The focus of the workforce advocacy platform is to abate the continued growth in graduating students and maintain or improve funding to the veterinary schools. Our advocacy statement, Australian veterinary workforce planning - essential for our future, is the basis of our advocacy to governments, universities, and veterinary boards.
This stream also includes implementation of a bi-annual workforce survey of all Australian veterinarians, and periodic use of the computer stock and flow model to observe changes over time.
Government veterinary workforce
The focus of this stream is the importance of maintaining a sustainable, quality veterinary public service, both federally and at state level. This means advocating for increased employment of government veterinarians in field, policy and laboratory positions, or at least no reduction in current capacity.
Higher education reforms
The aim of this stream is to ensure that veterinary student fees are maintained at a reasonable level and any higher education policies do not adversely affect veterinary students. Currently the primary debate is taking place at the national policy level through cabinet and parliament.
- Senate inquiry into higher education and skills training to support future demand in agriculture and agribusiness in Australia - 10 November 2011
- Skilled occupations list 2013 Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency - 18 November 2012
- Response to Treasury discussion paper on tax deductions for self-education expenses - 9 July 2013
- Skilled occupations list 2014 Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency - 20 November 2013
- Review of the demand driven higher education system - 12 December 2013
- Letter to Education Minister Christopher Pyne in response to the report of the review of the demand driven higher education system - 16 April 2014
- Senate inquiry into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014 - 22 September 2014
- Skilled occupations list 2015 Australian Department of Industry - 14 November 2014
- Skilled occupations list 2016 Australian Department of Education and Training - 19 October 2015
- Government pathology services - The availability and efficiency of government pathology services are vital in responding to emerging and exotic animal diseases.
- Frawley report - Frawley's 2003 Review of Rural Veterinary Services was a comprehensive examination of veterinary workforce issues in Australia.
- Craven and Neumann reports - The Craven report (2005) and the Neumann report (2007) further explored veterinary workforce issues and made important recommendations.