Australian Disability Workforce Revealed – Casual Workers Higher Than In Aged Care
11 August 2017 at 10:00 am
An inaugural report into the Australian disability workforce reveals a sector growing rapidly and experimenting with work arrangements and recruitment approaches – with more casual employees in the disability sector than in the aged care sector.
The Australian Disability Workforce Report by the national peak body for not-for-profit disability services, National Disability Services (NDS), tracked six quarters of workforce data showing consistent net growth, an increase in casual employment, and (among allied health professionals) increased use of fixed-term, as opposed to ongoing, employment.
“Indicators such as labour turnover show relative stability, with casual turnover rates much higher and less predictable than those for permanent workers,” the report said.
Report author Caroline Alcorso told Pro Bono News the NDS was tracking the disability workforce through the new Workforce Wizard tool looking at trends and it included information from 35,000 workers in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
“There isn’t any proper ABS data about the disability workforce so it was the only way we could get a picture of what was really happening and understanding the trends under the NDIS, by developing the Workforce Wizard,” Alcorso said.
“What we found was a very rapidly growing workforce. So approximately 3 per cent net growth per quarter of all providers using the tool, which is pretty rapid – it’s about 12 per cent per year.
“We found a sharp distinction between the turnover rate for casual and part time workers… the proportion of casual workers in our workforce is around 40 per cent which is higher than aged care services. It’s very high and the turnover rates are about double those of the permanent part time work force.”
Alcorso said low average working hours was also an issue.
“There is relatively poor utilisation of disability support workers so the average hours of work for all workers is 22 hours a week,” she said.
She said the report looked at the big question about whether the NDIS was trying to casualise the work completely.
“I would say we didn’t find any evidence of this. There is a slight upward trend in casualisation over the last six quarters as the NDIS has rolled out, but it’s not marked.
“What we did see was much more reliance on short term contracts for allied health workers, the professional health workers and that’s worrying. That was a particular surprise.
“I think because there is a really noticeable decline in full time ongoing contracts for allied health professionals and an increase in short term contracts which will not be as attractive to many young allied health professionals starting off in their careers.
Another thing that was surprising she said was the “dramatic difference and contrast between the disability and the aged care workforce”.
“The aged care workforce does have much better data around it and that comes from a four-yearly census that is conducted of aged care workers. What this census most recently found was that casual employment of aged care workers last year was reducing not increasing,” Alcorso said.
“For us nearly half of the disability support workers were employed as casual or on short term contracts and that’s compared to only 14 per cent in community aged care.”
On gender balance, the report found that the disability workforce was not such a female dominated industry as first anticipated.
“I mean it is female dominated but not as much as aged care. So about 30 per cent of our workforce is male,” Alcorso said.
“The other thing that is interesting and people find surprising from the [aged care] census is that not many aged care workers are doubling up by working in the disability sector.
“Government often talks about the two work forces will converge and the workforce will become much more flexible moving across both, but there’s no sign of that as yet.
“In aged care about 9 per cent of workers in residential and 6 per cent in community care have a second job but most of those second jobs are in another aged care facility not in disability.”
NDS said the Workforce Wizard tool was developed for the disability sector to provide good data for both employers and workers.
The report also explored Workforce Wizard’s first ‘spotlight’ topic – recruitment difficulty – showing that providers were successfully recruiting in high numbers, while also experiencing challenges as they adopted more person-centred approaches.
“These approaches are readily visible in care-careers job ads, which continue to attract over 500 views per ad,” Alcorso said.
“We found that there was a lot of recruitment going on. About three quarters of all organisations were recruiting in terms of formal advertisements in the March quarter which is really high for any sector and that they managed to fill all their advertised position in about two thirds of cases.
“About one third of organisations didn’t find people and were finding it difficult. I think it is a vote of confidence in the type of strategies disability providers are using to recruit.
“They are all trying hard to do new things to attract new people in different ways and reach out to specific groups whether it’s young men, students or carers or people who are recent immigrants and this shows that these kind of strategies are really starting to work quite well in terms of bringing people into the sector.
“This is not to say that there aren’t recruitment problems and difficulties. I think it shows that we don’t have to panic. Obviously it is extremely difficult in remote and regional areas in Australia and that is a whole different story. But nationally it is not like there is a crisis in disability recruitment.”
She said the industry was doing a very good job in gearing up.
The Australian Disability Workforce Report will be a twice-yearly publication, with the next edition scheduled for February 2018.