Opinion | 21 July 2015

I love my job – support workers embrace opportunities under the NDIS

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As the roll-out of the NDIS comes to a town near you, or continues to bed-in across trial sites, the changes and challenges facing workers in the disability sector are becoming increasingly apparent.

Issues of potential casualisation of the workforce and job security are regularly raised by staff. As are the questions of workloads, skill sets and time management as the scheme’s participants take control of decisions regarding their packages and which support workers and service providers they choose.

In essence your working life will be affected under the NDIS. But what’s great about these changes is that with preparation, information, networking, skill development and support and recognition from employers, professional bodies and the broader community, you will grow in your job and seize on some great opportunities to get the most reward and satisfaction out of your career. And all this points to even better outcomes for people with disability.

For now let’s look at the new and emerging trends for what skills and talents will be needed by support workers under the NDIS.

The facts about the NDIS

Here are some facts:

  • Under the person-centred approach, a participant’s plan is designed to meet their needs and to support them in living a full and productive life.
  • Disability practitioners will now be interacting much more closely with the people they support.
  • As support plans become more individualised, support workers will find their routines changing in ways you might not have imagined before.
  • Demand and opportunities for disability support workers is predicted to double as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) rolls out across Australia.

We know there is a shift towards a customer service culture. Disability service organisations will have NDIS participants as their customers and their best interests as their goal.

This shift is also a chance for disability practitioners to contribute to the process.

“We found it a positive experience, planners came to the house and met with household and family, to discuss living arrangements and needs, as well as taking into account the needs of clients. So we were able to take a holistic view, the staff found it a very positive process, and they were able to contribute their knowledge.’’ – CEO of agency in Victorian NDIS trial site

Matching skills to clients

But the demand for skills will also get more specific. Support agencies are already reporting an increase in skill-matching across all areas. This includes pairing workers with participants who have a similar culture and language, and even gender. For now, most disability workers are female, but this could change as participants get used to the idea that they have control over the characteristics and gender of the people they want to work with them.

“There’ll be a demand for more people from different age groups, different cultures, religion, language, more men, different hobbies – participants want someone to match their interests, after being looked after by someone like their mum for so long.” – National manager in workforce development

Meeting client needs

One of the big differences of the NDIS is that the work follows the client. A whole new industry is being geared to respond to participants’ needs. This can mean practitioners will specialise in certain requirements relating to a person’s disability – not unlike nurses who specialise in different types of nursing. But it can also mean following the client’s interests. Say, for example, a person you work with wants to get involved in community gardening – then you will too. Or if another person you support wants to join a chess club – you may find yourself learning about chess as well.

“There could be greater differentiation of support workers’ roles, it may be important for services to be clear about the roles they’re doing, and to train people for that, and to have different rewards as well.” – National manager in workforce development

Building workforce skills

The demand for administration and IT skills is also growing. Disability practitioners will be more involved in assisting their clients to manage their plans and budgets, and also in keeping record of their own hours and billing. This can mean the chance to learn new and useful skills.

There’s also plenty of room for career-changers. It’s a good time to enter the industry; besides specific training, the essential requirement is people skills.

“People skills are crucial. We’re seeing people from all sectors, but most notably retail and hospitality. They are used to dealing with customers’ needs, it’s an easy transition.’’ – Project manager with a workforce recruitment agency.

National Disability Practitioners

This need for a developed, skilled and responsive workforce in the NDIS era was, in part, the reason behind the establishment of National Disability Practitioners (NDP).

In its founding year, NDP has grown into a professional association of over 7000 members with the key purpose of delivering professional development to members through education and training, resources and information, networking, recognition programmes and grants, scholarship and awards.

NDP’s focus is the frontline support worker and is committed to empowering and supporting this group of exceptional people. NDP will deliver the very best service to people with disability nationwide and represent their organisations effectively as service ambassadors.

NDP not only factors in the need to help train, support and retain support workers already in the sector, but to also help attract the many new employees needed under the NDIS from outside the sector – people with a variety of transferable skills such as customer service, marketing, IT, finance, business management and lifestyle, sport and recreation expertise, to name a few.

The time has come for frontline support worker to be visible, highly regarded and super professional. Embracing the opportunities for skills development and additional or new training will be vital as you build your career in disability under the NDIS.

Special offer for EAC supporters

Below is a special offer to EAC campaign supporters to enjoy an NDP member-only video discussing some specific skills sets and career issues support workers should consider as the NDIS rolls out. It features Dougie Herd of the EAC campaign, Mike Field of carecareers and Annette Connolly who is a support worker and team manager. It’s really interesting stuff.

If you would like more information about opportunities available to you as a disability worker and would like to join NDP please visit our website www.ndp.org.au and follow us on Facebook , Twitter  and Linked In.

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Related FAQs

Will we be able to choose the type of support we receive?