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A responsive workforce that delivers quality supports

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Workforce challenges are well known and widespread

In 2021-22 there were around 325,000 workers supporting NDIS participants, their families and carers.214 The supports these workers provide are essential for people with disability to live their lives.

Participants, families and carers told us of the difference good support workers can make in their lives.

I have been linked with the most amazing support workers. People who work for me in their own time to fill the many, many gaps left by an inadequate plan. if it were not for the wonderful humans who support me so well, I guarantee you I would have checked out.

– Participant 215

As the NDIS grows, more workers will be needed to support people with disability. About 128,000 more workers are likely to be needed by June 2025 to fully meet demand. But service providers, participants, families and carers told us that finding and keeping disability workers with the right skills, values and attitudes is already hard today.216

Finding good support workers has been very difficult for us. I have often gone unsupported due to [being] unable to find good workers for our daughter.

– Carer 217

The disability sector is also trying to build its workforce at the same time as there is strong demand for new workers right across the care and support sector.

Figure 13: The NDIS workforce is diverse, covering disability support workers, allied health workers and other workers working across a variety of settings218

Despite strong workforce growth since the NDIS commenced, large and persistent workforce shortages remain in the NDIS under current policy settings. This limits access to suitable supports for some participants and places pressure on existing workers, particularly in regional and remote areas and for some participant groups.

We’ve heard that many NDIS workers are feeling burnt out. A recent workforce retention survey found more than two in five (43 per cent) of NDIS workers felt burnt out at least half the time in their job.219

Jobs can be short term with poor conditions and many workers aren’t staying. Each year, indicatively between 17 per cent and 25 per cent of NDIS workers leave their job. Unless this high level of turnover can be addressed, between 198,000 and 292,000 NDIS workers are expected to leave their job in the three years to June 2025.220

Many workers say they can’t access the training they need and some feel they have limited career opportunities.

There is a vicious cycle in this sector. People want to make a career as a disability worker. They know that they need to be trained to do the sort of specialised work that is needed. They want to do that training. But they cannot do it [training] because they are employed only on a casual basis with short contracts and so must work for several organisations just to make ends meet. This means that they cannot refuse a shift because they cannot risk losing that job. If they cannot get time off, they cannot do training. If they do not do training, they cannot get more shifts - because they do not have the specialised training needed for the work. How do they win?

- Disability Support Worker, quoted in Australian Services Union221

Some workers report not getting enough supervision.

Supervision is few and far between, that's if it does happen. We aren't debriefed after extreme major incidents. We're constantly questioned about doing overtime when we're understaffed. We haven't had a staff meeting since 2022.

- Disability Support Worker, quoted in Health Services Union222

We also know that three out of four NDIS workers are employed either part-time or casually. Workers with disability - or ‘peer workers’ - are not well represented in the NDIS workforce. The operationalisation of worker screening can also create barriers to workers joining the NDIS workforce (see Recommendation 17).

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 one in 20 jobs in Australia are expected to be in the care and support sector.223 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 veterans’ care services. However, they have often not looked at the care and support sector as a whole. Past workforce strategies have also lacked performance measures, making it difficult to tell if government actions have had any impact.

While monitoring and evaluation of the [NDIS Workforce] plan is expected throughout its life, the plan itself does not set out measurable outcomes that might be used to assess whether the plan is effective in supporting sustainable growth in the NDIS workforce. … The committee therefore remains concerned that, without adequate attention from the Commonwealth Government in this plan, many of the issues experienced by the NDIS workforce ... will continue to persist.

- Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme 224

Meeting future needs will need joint and ongoing action across the care and support sector.

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