The disability sector needs more support workers to meet the need created by the NDIS.
Jed Campbell may appear an unlikely disability support worker, given he is a young male with a keen interest in video games.
But he is exactly the type of person targeted by National Disability Services in its ongoing advertising campaign, ThinkSupport.
Run by National Disability Services WA and funded by the state’s Department of Communities, the campaign aims to encourage young people to become support workers amid growing demand for the role, which has increased recently due to the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
A support worker at Midland-based My Supports, Mr Campbell began working in the sector after he became disillusioned with his university studies.
On the advice of a friend, he joined My Supports a year ago and now works with eight clients during a three- or four-hour shift most days.
Mr Campbell said he enjoyed the work and hoped to progress to a coordinator position in a few years.
“Hopefully I can do a mix of that and some of the admin stuff; that would be my ideal set-up because I like going out with the clients and taking them around places,” Mr Campbell told Business News.
“I would continue doing this for as long as I possibly could. “It’s the ideal profession for me at the moment.”
National Disability Services WA state manager Julie Waylen said it was important to attract younger people to the sector so individuals could be supported by workers of a similar age, with shared interests.
“About a quarter of people with disability in WA are aged 25 and under, and it’s really important [to ensure] diversity in the workforce across all ages, but we know we need to increase the number of workers in the sector that are age appropriate,” she said.
“For young people with a disability, being supported by someone of a similar age, who is a quality worker, is really important.”
Currently, the average support worker was female and in their early to mid 40s, Ms Waylen said, but this was slowly changing given the career opportunities on offer for young people.
“Working with people with disability and supporting them to live great lives is a really fantastic career choice, and it’s an opportunity to make a difference and give back,” she said.
In addition to funding the ThinkSupport campaign, the government has announced several programs to meet the growing demand for disability support workers.
In May 2020, NDS WA established the Jobs in WA Disability Services website, with funding from the Department of Communities, which allows job seekers and organisations to create profiles.
In August, the state government opened a $1.3 million NDIS Training Centre at South Regional TAFE to train people undertaking ageing and disability support courses.
The government announced an NDIS Job Matching Service, run by NDS, in September.
The service involves working with NDIS service providers to identify their workforce needs, and Jobs and Skills Centres and other employment services to connect jobseekers with jobs and VET training options.
According to the National Skills Commission’s Vacancy Report for January 2021, there were 8,000 jobs for carers and aides advertised nationwide on websites Australian JobSearch, careerone. com.au and Seek, up 28.3 per cent from January 2020.
Those in the ‘carers and aides’ category, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, are people who provide basic care, supervision and other support services to individuals, and include disability support workers.
In Western Australia, the skills commission calculated 760 jobs were advertised for carers and aides in January, making it one of the most in-demand jobs in the state.
Ms Waylen said the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme had led to an increase in demand for support workers in WA.
The scheme, which was designed to give users more control over their care, allows individuals to manage their funds, instead of disability services organisations receiving block funding to provide services.
Ms Waylen said because more people qualified for care under the NDIS, more workers were required.
She said projections showed that, by 2023, 48,000 people would be eligible for the NDIS, an increase from 25,000 before the NDIS was introduced.
By the end of last year, 37,216 people in WA were receiving NDIS services, 18,355 of whom were getting support for the first time.
In November 2020, the state government said an additional 10,000 workers would be needed to meet the service demand created by the NDIS.
Ms Waylen said it wasn’t just about finding workers, but a quality workforce with the right values who genuinely cared about the day-to-day lives of the people they supported.
Head of brand and people at community services organisation Chorus, Louise Forster, said it had been difficult to recruit disability support workers for the past three years, particularly people who ticked all the boxes.
“When we are recruiting, we are looking for someone who is available during the day, who is willing to take you to do the activities that you are really interested in, understands behavioural issues, [and] has the training and skills and background,” she said.
“And then of course we only pay in the $20s an hour, so it’s pretty tough.
“It’s not just that we are struggling, it’s really tricky across the board.”
Recruiting support workers was just one factor in having a disability support workforce which would provide a high level of service, Ms Forster said.
“We have realised how many other issues there are in getting a support worker through the door and delivering a service successfully,” she said.
Making sure employees were available, ensuring staff understood their tasks, managing the expectations of customers, managing worker injuries, and ensuring people didn’t work overtime were some of the challenges in delivering services under the NDIS.
“We talk about delivering to expectations; our aim is for a Chorus person to deliver a Chorus service that delivers on the expectations that a Chorus customer has, but for that to happen successfully, there are at least 50 things,” Ms Forster said.
Chorus has been trialling new ways to attract disability support workers.
One strategy involved publishing tailored job advertisements to find people to support a specific person, Ms Forster said.
For example, if a person likes going to gigs on Friday nights, the advertisement asks specifically for someone who is also interested in that activity.
A staff member is dedicated to calling applicants within 24 hours of submitting their resume to make sure they receive personal contact from Chorus to make a good impression.
“Even if you get $1 or more an hour extra, because we definitely don’t pay the highest in the market, you might be more willing to come to us because you like the idea of the organisation, you have had a human who has reassured you and given you some connection,” Ms Forster said.
Chorus is in the process of evaluating its recruitment strategy to determine whether this kind of personal communication makes a difference.
“We are still testing if that human connection will work,” Ms Forster said.
Activ Foundation, the largest charitable organisation in WA according to Business News’s Data & Insights, has also implemented strategies to build its workforce.
Chief executive Danielle Newport said a large number of people applied for support worker positions at Activ, but the organisation had found it challenging to recruit people in regional areas and in roles supporting clients with high support needs.
Ms Newport said advertising online, including social media, had worked well.
“Over the last number of years, we launched several advertising campaigns with the aim of attracting younger support workers to the sector,” Ms Newport told Business News.
“We also try to keep in touch with previous applicants and let them know about new positions as they arise.”
She said the broader industry needed to provide clearer information about the realities of being a disability support worker to help meet demand.
“An increased focus on potential career paths and career progression opportunities is needed, as well as clearer communication about the realities of the support worker role, both positive and challenging,” Ms Newport said.
“Many people associate support work with an outdated idea of traditional ‘carers’, when the reality is often very different.”