13 August 2019

From crisis to opportunity: local disability sector steps up to support disability workforce

| Rebecca Vassarotti MLA
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Creative solutions for a sustainable disability workforce forum was held last week. Photos: Region Media.

With the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), there has been lots of discussion about a looming crisis in the disability support workforce.

We tend to hear a lot about concerns including how to attract more people to the industry, how to ensure ongoing quality and how to support job satisfaction for people working in this sector. It’s less common to hear about the possible solutions.

Given this, the news of a group of organisations and individuals working together to come up with creative solutions to support and grow the local disability support workforce is a welcome one.

The Workforce Impact Collective (WIC) is an initiative funded by the ACT Government and over the last two years has been trying to identify ways that more people may choose to get involved in disability support work, how to ensure they are adequately trained and skilled and how the sector can retain them.

With the sector looking at a rapid growth rate within the next decade, this is an urgent task. Six pilot projects have been funded over the last year to test concepts and trial ideas to see if they result in increased interest in support work, and to test its broader application across the local disability sector.

The WIC came together last week with leaders of the six pilot projects that were supported through the project to share successes, challenges, learnings and future plans.

The Forum highlighted the importance of communication in relation to improving job satisfaction for disability support staff, as well as people with disabilities and their families.

Sharing Places shared how they have improved communication between support workers and service users through a range of strategies including the introduction of a key worker project. This project has created new opportunities for staff and service users to connect, and identify better ways of supporting people with disabilities.

The Summer Foundation shared the outcomes of their project that trained ACT disability professionals to support people with disabilities to make videos outlining their needs in relation to their personal care. This has led to better orientation of disability support workers who get the same information from people themselves.

Workforce Impact Collective

The team involved in the Forum.

Another theme that ran through the Forum was the ways in which pilot projects were aiming to tap into the under-utilised resources within our community.

Achieve by Design spoke about their Mature Age Workforce Project where they are directly connecting with older workers and highlighting the opportunities in the disability sector to hold roles that provide great meaning.

Uniting Kippax has been connecting with culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Both these projects have been met with significant interest, with many now taking steps to become trained and job-ready.

Imagine More shared their work in Roles Based Recruitment, where they are connecting with people outside the traditional disability sector, and linking people with skills and expertise to support people with disabilities to achieve their aspirations. They have shared the story of Bryan who was keen to identify support to enable him to continue drumming as part of a local band.

Relationships are clearly fundamental to any successful arrangement, and this again was a theme that ran through the forum. Achieve by Design shared their early work about developing a Support User Network to connect people with disabilities with support workers that may be called in on short notice. This project has been trying to break down some of the barriers that have emerged in a system that has become transactional rather than relational. A lightbulb moment for all participants was the understanding that both people with disabilities and workers want the same thing – respect, clarity and a relationship.

At the Forum we heard more about the concept behind the WIC, which uses a collective impact model. This included a strong focus on community development principles that facilitated greater value to the broader project than what would have been possible if pilots had been operating in a vacuum.

The WIC spent time building trust with individuals and organisations, listening to their stories, undertaking research to reduce the chance of duplication and connecting people as well as overseeing the evaluation of the entire initiative.

The backbone team, who are part of National Disability Services (NDS) worked with each of the project leaders. They also supported the Steering Committee which was a mix of people from the business sector, community sector and those with lived experience all coming together on a volunteer basis to achieve the objective of having a disability workforce that is fit for purpose. Key to this is ensuring that our community has a disability workforce with the quality, capacity and sustainability required to support people with disabilities to have greater choice and control.

So what’s next? Sustainability is always a key question for projects that are time-limited and developed as pilots. Everyone involved agreed that the investment has delivered significant value, and there are great opportunities to share the learnings of these pilots more broadly with the sector.

It is clear however in a sector that is under increasing pressure, the ability of organisations to maintain momentum without specific support is limited.

Have you been involved in initiatives that encourage innovation and better support for workers in human services?

Rebecca was the facilitator of the panel discussion at the WIC forum on the invitation of NDS.

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