A university student from Manjimup has returned home to kickstart her career in aged care — and she certainly is not the youngest to do so. Brooke Thomas, 21, is part of a rising number of youngsters filling critical jobs within the industry in the lower South West on the back of shortages across the region. The Manjimup-Bridgetown Times reported in December the heads of aged care homes across the region were calling for urgent funding as a lack of staff could lead to dire gaps within the sector. Miss Thomas was offered a position at Baptistcare Moonya Residential Care after completing 120 hours of work placement early last year as part of her studies at Curtin University. The 21-year-old is currently completing her third year in Health Science – Occupational Therapy but manages to balance her studies with part-time work at the aged care facility. Miss Thomas said she loved working in aged care, particularly in the therapy side as it allowed for her to give the necessary one-on-one time with the residents. “Being able to help make a positive difference in the lives of our residents and their families is so rewarding,” she said. “To be able to help residents to continue to participate in activities that are meaningful to them, that’s very special.” Miss Thomas said it was important to be able to connect with the residents and build a bond with them on a personal level. She said she had been lucky to connect with the residents at BMRC through discussions of her family, with whom the residents are personally familiar. Her grandfather started the family farm in Manjimup, and her great-grandfather was the only doctor in Pemberton from 1937 to 1980. “Many of the residents at Moonya knew my great-grandfather and have fond memories and lots of stories to share,” she says. Miss Thomas has also gained her Certificate 3 in Individualised Support (Ageing) at the South Regional TAFE as a supplement to her university studies during the COVID lockdowns in 2020, which she said she chose because of her interest in working in aged care. Baptistcare allied health manager Jodi Taylor said Miss Thomas was one of many young people who were gravitating towards a career in aged care. “They are very comfortable in the company of the elderly, admire and acknowledge their wonderful contribution to our society and in some small way wish to give back,” she said. Ms Taylor said it was great the young worker could start her career within her community and not have to leave to gain experience. “Occupational therapists and physiotherapists play an important role in the health and wellbeing of Baptistcare residents,” she said. “They are able to identify with the resident what is important to them and what they want to be able to do each day to have a meaningful life.” A 2020 Aged Care Workforce Census conducted by the Australian Government Department of Health determined that most employees in the industry were aged between 30 and 39 years compared to aged 50-59 six years ago.