19/06/2007 - 22:00

Not for profit: Staff, funds squeeze biting

19/06/2007 - 22:00

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Western Australia’s tight employment market, and an increased demand for counselling services, have created a staffing crisis in the state’s not-for-profit alcohol and other drug agencies, according to the sector’s peak body.

Not for profit: Staff, funds squeeze biting

Western Australia’s tight employment market, and an increased demand for counselling services, have created a staffing crisis in the state’s not-for-profit alcohol and other drug agencies, according to the sector’s peak body.

 

In order to address the issue, the Western Australian Network of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies (WANADA) is compiling a research paper for the state government’s budget estimates process, due to be completed by October, addressing the wage disparity between government and not-for-profit agency workers.

 

It will also review employee conditions and propose staff retention strategies.

 

WANADA executive director Jill Rundle said the not-for-profit alcohol and other drug sector had reached crisis point, and was being asked to do more with fewer resources.

 

“The growing disparity in resources and wages between government and not-for-profit services and workers is not demonstrative of an equal partnership or respect of the complementary roles of the two sectors,” she said.

 

Ms Rundle said extra funding for existing services had been limited over the past few years, while expenses and staffing pressures, particularly in regional WA, had significantly increased during the same period.

 

She also said agencies were struggling to deal with the increased complexity of clients amid a growing demand for services.

 

According to Mission Australia WA community services operations manager, Brian Wooller, these factors, along with increased reporting and administrative requirements, had reduced the attractiveness of the sector to potential employees.

 

“The other thing that is very significant is enrolments at uni-versities in human services, parti-cu-larly social work, are falling,” he said.

 

Mr Wooller said while the government contracted much of the organisation’s work, funding fell short of salary requirements.

 

“We deficit-fund anyway and have to go looking for money from other sources, and have to pay lower rates,” he said.

 

Mr Wooller said Mission Australia had struggled to recruit staff. A recent search for three services managers had returned only four suitable applications.

 

He said the organisation had paid its counselling and professional staff according to certified agreements for the past five years, which were slightly above the federal government’s award rate for community agencies.

 

“I think it has helped retain staff to some extent, but hasn’t helped to attract them. There’s not much out there to draw from,” he said.

 

Cyrenian House executive director, Carol Daws, agreed staffing issues were acute, with retention of suitably experienced staff the biggest hurdle.

 

“In an agency like ours, we’ll often take on people who are developing their skills, until their level of competency has increased to a point where they can leave for better pay,” she said.

 

Ms Daws said the organisation had been forced to employ people in acting positions who did not have a suitable amount of experience.

 

Alcohol and drug counselling agency Holyoake executive officer, Margaret Jackson, also said it was difficult to recruit experienced staff.

 

She said most of Holyoake’s senior roles were being filled by internal appointments, although the organisation benefited from its status as a registered training organisation, which provided a recruitment pool.

 

Similarly, Palmerston Association Inc chief executive officer Pam McKenna said the organisation had been insulated from the staffing pressures faced by other agencies because of its volunteer counsellors training program for students studying psychology or social work, which trains about 25 volunteers per year. 

 

However, she said Palmerston had found it difficult to recruit workers in specialist roles, such as family therapists or nurses, because it could not compete with other agencies on remuneration, and that this was likely to worsen.

 

“I think we’re not experiencing the full impact of the current industrial market yet,” she said.

 

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