25 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Ask the expert: is gerontology a good career option?

While there is no ambiguity in the overall trend and opportunities in this field, be careful not to be lured into a vocation/work permit trap

Sanjeev Verma
4 Oct 2016 | 12:31 pm

I’m in high school and would like to pursue a career assisting elderly people. Is it true that my chances of migrating to the West are greater if I follow this career path?

With the world population fast greying, demand for workers educated in health sciences is bound to increase. This is especially so for vocations that include caring for the aged. The global share of old people (defined as 65 and over) is expected to increase from 8 per cent in 2014 to 13 per cent in 2030.

Similarly the old-age dependency ratio – the ratio of old people to those of working age – is rising. In 2010 the world had 16 old people for every 100 adults between the ages of 25 and 64 (same as in 1980). But by 2035 the UN expects this number to have risen to 26 – a whopping increase of 63 per cent. While the demographics of the future is crystal clear, the trend in some countries is much more pronounced – for instance Japan and Germany will have 69 and 68 old people respectively for every 100 working adults.

With an ageing population the focus will shift from acute care to treatment of chronic diseases, and assisted skilled and non-skilled medical care will be in high demand. Social work skills to work with the elderly will need to be cultivated. The trend over time will be to make older adults age comfortably but productively and independently. It is estimated that one out of every four new jobs created in America will be in healthcare, social assistance or private educational services.

To assist the elderly you would need to pursue healthcare professions such as nursing, social work and counselling requiring the study of biology, sociology and psychology of the ageing population. Subsequently you could specialise in the field of gerontology and this will open even more doors.

In addition to formal qualifications you would need the ability to work well under pressure, deal calmly with emergencies, work within a team and communicate effectively to internal and external stakeholders. Compassion and empathy are two personal traits most required in this profession.

While there is no ambiguity in the overall trend and opportunities in this field, be careful not to be lured into a vocation/work permit trap. Yes, health services could be categorised as jobs in high demand in some countries, but you need to be circumspect while applying. Many agencies will make tall claims about employment opportunities assuring you of work/residence permits. Do not be lured by such promises and specious advertising. Make sure the service provider has a track record and is recognised by the government and immigration authorities. Be especially wary of private colleges who under the guise of providing education are actually ‘visa factories’.

Remember if it sounds too good to be true, then in all probability, it is.

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Sanjeev Verma

Sanjeev Verma

is a leading international education counsellor