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Is the NDIS building a responsive and supportive workforce?
Today there are some 325,000 workers supporting NDIS participants, their families and carers. The supports these workers provide are essential for people with disability to live an ordinary life.
As the NDIS grows, more workers are needed to support people with disability. About 128,000 more workers are likely to be needed by June 2025.
But service providers and participants tell us that finding and keeping workers with the right skills, values and attitudes is hard.
We’ve heard that many NDIS workers are feeling burnt out. Jobs can be short term with poor conditions and many workers aren’t staying.
We also know that:
- Three out of four NDIS workers are employed either part-time or casually.
- Many workers say they can’t access the training they need and some feel they have limited career opportunities.
- Some workers report not getting enough supervision.
- Workers with lived experience of disability – or ‘peer workers’ – are not well represented in the NDIS workforce.
- NDIS Worker Screening Checks can take time and delay people starting work.
NDIS workers are part of the broader care and support sector
Many of the challenges facing NDIS workers are similar for those working in aged care and veterans’ care. Some NDIS workers also work across these two other areas. When we talk about these sectors together, we call this the ‘care and support sector’.
The care and support sector is also growing. By 2049-50, almost 1 in 20 jobs in Australia are expected to be in the care and support sector.
But we’ve also heard that if things don’t change there won’t be enough workers to provide the care and support all Australians need.
Past reviews looked at ways to grow and sustain the workforce for disability, aged care and veteran’s care services. But, these reviews mostly did not look at the care and support sector as a whole.
Meeting future needs will need joint action across the care and support sector.
We have made four recommendations to attract, keep and train suitable workers as part of our review.
We need to look at new ways to attract, keep and train workers
To meet the future needs of the NDIS, we need to look at new ways to attract, keep and train workers across the care and support sector.
Most care and support workers do not work in traditional full-time jobs. Many work more than one job. For these workers, training and other systems are not always helping them to build their skills and careers. Employers are not encouraged to invest in training these workers.
One way to change this is to put in place new ways to for workers to build up training and leave balances when working across the care and support sector. We call this ‘portable' leave or training when it is recognised across the care and support sector and not just with a single employer or in a single sector.
Making it easier for workers to move across the care and support sector can open up more career options and encourage them to stay in the sector.
We need to test these schemes to ensure that workers, employers and ultimately participants and clients, benefit.
The Australian Government should work with states and territories to test new ways to attract and keep care and support workers
Specific approaches should test a portable training scheme, as well as a portable sick and carer’s leave scheme.
Work should also continue to develop ‘micro‑credentials’, these are short courses that can help workers can quickly upskill. Work should also continue on a ‘digital skills passport’ to help workers record and track their training, as well as growing the use of traineeships.
Overseas workers can be part of the solution to severe workforce shortages, but they need the right values and skills
Together with action to better attract, keep and train workers, migration can help fill short‑term workforce gaps. But it can be hard for some overseas care and support workers to come to Australia.
We think there should be more targeted and flexible approaches to attract overseas workers across the care and support sector. Importantly, these approaches shouldn’t be used to replace efforts to invest in building a sustainable local workforce.
The Australian Government should develop flexible pathways for overseas care and support workers
This should include considering an ‘industry labour agreement’. This is an agreement that outlines specific conditions for hiring overseas workers for the broader care and support sector. The agreement should be developed with industry, employer associations and unions, and reviewed in the first five years. The agreement could also focus on workers who would not otherwise qualify for skilled migration with suitable skills, values and attitudes.
Governments need to get better at planning for future workforce needs
Better planning across the care and support workforce needs to be put in place. This will help governments to better understand current gaps and to better plan for future workforce needs.
Governments need to work better together to identify and address issues for the sector. They also need to be accountable for their plans and actions. One way to do this could be through the Care and Support Economy Taskforce. The Taskforce was established in 2022 to develop a national strategy for the care and support economy.
The Australian Government should take a joined up approach to workforce planning across care and support sector
As part of this work the commonwealth, state and territory governments should work together to:
- improve the information we have on who works in the sector
- identify where we do not have enough workers and what can do done to fill these gaps
- understand and share learning on what works.
NDIS Worker Screening Checks could be improved
Many workers need to have an ‘NDIS Worker Screening Check’ done before they can support participants. The check looks at the worker’s criminal history and other background information. It makes sure a worker is fit to deliver care and supports to people with disability.
States and territories do the NDIS Worker Screening Check. But they each use slightly different approaches. They have different rules on when a worker can start working while they wait for their check, and if workers need extra checks.
There is also a three step process to complete a check.
- A worker must apply through a state or territory government.
- Their employer must then ‘verify’ to government that they are looking to hire the worker.
- Only once verified, will the state or territory government begin assessing the application.
These steps can create delays for workers, employers and participants. These delays if they are too long may stop people from joining the NDIS workforce.
Across Australia, half of all NDIS Worker Screening Checks are processed in 4 days or less. However, for some workers and in some states and territories the time to process an application is much longer. The wait can be especially long where employers take a long time to ‘verify’ an application. These processing times also do not count the time for a worker to make an application to government.
We have requested validated average worker screening processing times from the Australian Government working with the states and territories. We will publish these times once available.
The Australian Government should work with state and territory governments to make it easier and quicker for workers to get an NDIS Worker Screening Check
Some practical things that could be looked at include:
- start processing applications without waiting for an employer to verify the application
- consider allowing more workers to start work while they wait for the check to be processed with the right safety measures for participants (such as, supervision)
- more information on the time it takes to get a NDIS Worker Screening Check
- make worker screening checks consistent across the care and support sector.
Over the coming months, we will continue to consider a number of other workforce issues.
This includes worker regulation as well as how prices are set in the NDIS and other market settings. We are interested in ways to better invest in the capacity of participants and help reduce growing pressure on the workforce.
We will look at how peer workers could be better supported in the NDIS.
Improving access to supports and local workers for First Nations and remote communities will also be a focus.
You can read our full background paper on ‘Building a more responsive and supportive workforce’ for our detailed early findings and recommendations.