The National Workforce Capability Framework and the NDIS National Workforce Plan - inspiration and groundhog day?
12 August 2021 at 8:00 am
Two weeks ago, the director of Purpose at Work, Dr Caroline Alcorso, wrote about whether the new NDIS National Workforce Plan 2021-2025 can deliver on its promise of fostering innovation. This time she looks at whether it can assist providers with implementing another major policy framework being published this year: the NDIS Workforce Capability Framework.
In a sector where lack of coordination between responsible government agencies has been an ongoing problem, it’s exciting to see two national disability policy documents addressing capability development – from potentially complementary perspectives. This article aims to orient the reader to both documents, and help with understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
When you read the NDIS Workforce Capability Framework prepare for a surprise. The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission introduces it rather innocuously, as something “which describes the capabilities workers need to deliver services and supports when working with participants.” But the ambition and specificity of the capabilities workers need, and the responsibilities arising for employers, will give senior leadership teams and employees food for thought.
The Framework can be obtained by contacting the Commission; its publication as an online tool is coming soon.
Creating an enabling work environment
There is no space here to discuss the 20 core and complementary capabilities applying to roles directly supporting participants, deserving as they are of thorough consideration. I will concentrate on those directly relevant to the National NDIS Workforce Plan, which are the enabling environment capabilities. These are expected in roles:
- that ‘Manage, Supervise and Coach others’
- and that are responsible for ‘[Creating] an Enabling Work Environment’.
The eight sets of behavioural indicators, knowledge and skills listed for each are broad and may stretch some people’s expectations of what a “capability” is. The key point is that as the Framework says, they relate to the organisational objectives required to provide consistent, high quality, person-centred care.
In other words, the Commission does not see capabilities as simply requirements to be built into training or used in recruitment. Rather they are co-produced by workers and participants over time, in a fertile and supportive workplace. The Commission is acknowledging that it’s important to focus on the organisational culture, systems and practices that enable high quality care, as well as what a worker can bring as an individual.
As a result, the indicators include building systems of support, continuous learning opportunities for workers and encouragement for workers to assess and manage risks to themselves and the people they support. Managers are expected to role-model professional practice by sustaining their own skill development, creating strong peer networks and reflecting on their own practice. They are expected to identify work conditions that may lead to high turnover, and that may in turn compromise the quality of support. They should recognise the complexity of the demands of disability work and assist people to cope with these.
Many of these are no easy ask. Organisations may not have systematic ways to collect data or obtain feedback from participants and their families or from teams across the organisation to collectively analyse and improve on these indicators. The National Disability Insurance Agency’s decision to keep the outcome data it collects concealed from providers has not helped. And not all providers will be comfortable with the Framework’s subtle insistence on supporting staff to make decisions for themselves, while managers focus on the systems around them, especially in areas like positive risk-taking by participants.
So how does the National NDIS Workplace Plan 2021-25 relate to the Framework given its publication around the same time? Will it further support the sector to consistently grow its ability to provide a positive employee and participant experience for those in it?
The NDIS National Workplace Plan 2021-25
Supporting the Capability Framework is stated as an objective right up front in the Plan, which has been written by a different agency (the Department of Social Services). The Plan also includes important observations about the workforce-wide challenges that potentially affect the quality of support and increase the risk of abuse and neglect. These challenges are well-known and include high workforce turnover, casualisation, fragmented shifts, low and variable pay and workers feeling disconnected, as well as providers having few resources to provide learning and development. They were brutally summed up by the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS which reported in 2019 that under the NDIS, working conditions had “dramatically deteriorated” and it was, deeply concerned that the loss of skilled and experienced workers is potentially compromising the quality of care and supports offered to participants.”
The Plan focuses heavily on growing the workforce by attracting new workers to the sector and encouraging providers in other sectors like aged care to also provide disability services. Its second priority is ‘Train and Support the NDIS workforce’.
In that sense both the Framework and the Plan focus on skill development. They are complementary: the Framework provides granular descriptions of “what good support looks like” for participants under the NDIS while the Plan describes sector-wide strategies. But the Plan also sits a little uneasily with the Capability Framework.
The Framework urges the senior leadership in disability support organisations to “create an organisational environment that sets and meets high quality service standards, promotes life-long learning and development and supports career development for workers in disability and the wider care sector.”
The Plan however offers nothing to support this and seems to see training as an individual worker responsibility. (Its diagnosis of existing arrangements is that workers are turning away from accredited training because it lacks relevance; different training will attract them back). It focuses purely on solutions external to the workplace, rather than thinking through how employers collectively can be supported to build capability. The suggested solutions under the strategy include:
- Developing accredited micro-credentials
- Updating nationally recognised training
- A Care and Support Worker Professional Network
- An online skills passport
- Supporting the sector to grow traineeships and student placements
Some of these may work. The problem is that all already exist or (in the case of updating the national qualification and related products) have been underway for many years. Micro-credentials are perhaps an exception, depending on how different they are from the already-existing accredited skill sets.
A key difference we see is that the Capability Framework offers providers an inspiring here-and-now vision of change. Although developed by a regulatory agency, its goal is to encourage high quality service provision, including educating management teams on their responsibilities. Although not a compulsory document, we believe all disability senior management teams need to consider its implications in detail.
How good would it have been if the NDIS National Workforce Plan backed this up with concrete support to organisations to gain the skills and knowledge to make that vision a reality. But instead, the Workforce Plan offers ‘Groundhog Day’ and window dressing. It rehashes tired solutions that so far have failed to address the systemic issues for the disability workforce and wants to ‘sell’ the sector as a great place to work full of opportunity when many disability workplaces still have a way to go in becoming the enabling environments they need to be.
Purpose at Work is a consulting team that helps organisations develop and implement purpose-driven ways of working. Our passion is quality and accountability, with a minimum of bureaucracy. Our customer support and research focuses on workforce, workplace dynamics and quality and governance.
Find us at purposeatwork.com.au or contact Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org