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Time to focus on NDIS and the attraction and retention of an aboriginal workforce

Monday, December 4 2017

The disability sector, notably in the Northern Territory, is experiencing critical labour shortages with disability occupations sitting on the high priority occupations as identified by industry and economic modelling.

This is even more critical when you appreciate the pressing need for Aboriginal disability workers. The industry faces significant difficulties with a lack of current staff to fill roles and minimum numbers entering the industry with many aboriginal people with a disability relying on family or friends to provide their care. This means that more often than not, they are being cared for by unqualified persons.

Nationally, 4.2 million people or 18% of Australians are living with a disability with the disability sector estimated to have over 70 000 workers. The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which operates within a consumer directed model of care, will involve a substantial expansion of the disability services sector, leading to increased demand for disability support workers.

The move to individualised consumer directed care under the NDIS model requires that participants in the scheme will be afforded the best opportunity for quality service provision that is accountable and transparent. A skilled and committed aboriginal workforce that stands ready to provide those quality services in regional and remote areas will be critical to the success of the NDIS.

The NDIS transformation while bringing choice and control to participants has meant the disability sector workforce will need to be dynamic and evolve to meet the needs and expectations of people with disability and the Scheme. It is envisaged that a sustainable workforce is an essential precondition for the overall success of the NDIS and that new models of service delivery may emerge as the scheme transitions to a nationwide roll-out by 2019. Like the diversity of disability, the workforce of the future will need to become more than a one size fits all in relation to the services it provides to participants. The only way that we can overcome is to provide training and development to the current workforce and the future workforce.

A key consideration in the development of any national workforce strategy will be not just on how we grow this workforce, but ensuring it has the skills, qualities and capabilities to deliver the services that people with disability want, now and in the future.

The skills of disability workers must be sufficient to meet the requirements of the job and the needs of the people they support. A common core of knowledge and values underpins disability work; however, disability services and the people they support are diverse. Skills that are adequate and appropriate in one setting or with one group of clients may not be adequate or appropriate in another. A worker who supports people with high and complex needs will need a higher level of skill than other workers and/or specific skills related to the work they are doing.

It is recognised across the disability sector, that attitudes and values are just as important as skills, and that few disability service providers have the capacity to absorb additional costs arising from mandatory qualifications. Lean pricing associated with the NDIS is putting pressure on learning and development budgets, with providers strongly focused on their return on investment in training.

Considering these factors, recommendations have been made that training and qualification requirements need to be tailored to job roles, the working environment, and the needs and preferences of individual participants. Organisations may require formal qualifications for some roles, but these should not be mandated at entry level. An approach that takes into account the risks and complexity of each role, and the opportunities to extend training to staff as part of their career development, is needed to determine what is appropriate in specific operational environments.
It is essential that funding for NDIS supports includes adequate allowances for the costs of staff learning and development. This will ensure that the NDIS does not contribute to a decline in the quality of supports to people with disability.

At the same time, state and territory governments should be encouraged to ensure they support the development of disability workers in their jurisdiction. NDS encourages them to provide funding support for people to complete the Induction to Disability skillset as well as Certificate III Individual Support (Disability), Certificate IV Disability and Diploma Community Services qualifications.

Peak bodies including ACPET will continue to advocate for appropriate qualifications suited to the changing needs of the disability sector, and to encourage more RTOs to offer high quality training. In addition, there is an ongoing focus on workforce needs such as literacy and numeracy training, validation and moderation, industry endorsement of training, and industry-relevant training resources and to disseminate these nationally.


My thanks to Sally Morris of CrestNT for this contribution 



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