NDIS Review Conversation Series: Paper No. 13
Building a values-driven NDIS workforce
- Much of the current focus regarding NDIS workforce issues is on quantitative elements such as meeting the numerical demands for workforce growth
- This overlooks important foundational questions about the nature of the work and what good disability support work looks like
- To fulfil the promise of the NDIS and ensure participants are lifted into authentic social and economic participation in mainstream community life it is essential to build and maintain a strong values-driven workforce that delivers genuine ‘transformational’ impact
- This has substantial implications for workforce planning, recruitment, and training because, in particular, it shifts the key competencies from ‘transactional’ skills like ‘organising’ to ‘transformational’ skills like ‘asking’
- Importantly, workforce planning needs to be overhauled based on personnel who can demonstrate an authentic and heartfelt commitment to an inclusive Australia
- Providers should be accountable for demonstrating their habits of values-driven workforce development through social audit methodologies
The success of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in achieving its goal of lifting Australians living with disability into authentic roles of social and economic participation in mainstream community life relies heavily on the workforce. Indeed, when the Productivity Commission proposed the creation of the Scheme, it flagged its concern that the existing ‘shortcomings’ in workforce development ‘could be much greater under an NDIS’. Yet, after the first 10 years of the Scheme’s operations, what good NDIS work looks like and how to build the workforce to achieve this remains largely ill-defined. The Department of Social Services (DSS) produced the NDIS National Workforce Plan 2021-2025 with a vision to ‘support and retain existing workers’, ‘grow the workforce’, ‘maintain quality of participant supports delivered by workers’, and ‘support sector efficiency and innovation’. What is missing from the plan is a strongly articulated workforce purpose or mission statement and a description of what that looks like in practice. Arguably, the Plan is overly focused on quantitative elements at the expense of a more qualitative vision to shape the workforce that is needed if the NDIS is to deliver on its promise.
The NDIS Review’s paper on ‘Building a more responsive and supportive workforce’ highlights the NDIS workforce has doubled in size over the past seven years to about 325,000 people. Further, it will likely need to expand by an additional 128,000 workers before June 2025 to keep up with demand. With a high rate of worker turnover estimated at between 17 and 25 per cent – compared to an average of about 12 per cent across the economy – and competition for staff from other social sectors including aged care and childcare, the importance of addressing workforce issues is clear. Yet, the magnitude of these numbers seems to lead to a somewhat narrow focus on factors like rates of pay, NDIS pricing arrangements, recruitment including from overseas, training requirements, worker screening and compliance matters, and similar issues. While all these elements are important, this tends to overlook more significant foundational questions about how to build and maintain an effective NDIS workforce that can deliver a genuine impact on Scheme goals.
In this thirteenth paper in our NDIS Review Conversation Series, we argue a much greater focus should be on building a more impactful workforce. To adhere to the goals of the NDIS and deliver on its original promise, that impact needs to produce genuine ‘transformational’ benefits in the lives of participants. This necessitates a focus on building a values-driven workforce capable of creating this change and shifts the kind of training and workplace competencies that are essential for these roles from ‘transactional’ skills, for example, ‘organising’, to ‘transformational’ skills, such as, ‘asking’. Although this paper focuses on the workforce in the disability sector, the points we make below are relevant to anyone in a helping role with another person.
NDIS impact: A good life
The NDIS was established to lift participants into authentic social and economic participation in mainstream community life. We have emphasised the word ‘authentic’ here because just being in community is not enough. Having a support worker take a participant to a café for a coffee does not automatically lift a person into social and economic participation. Such activities can become a way of passing time, or filling in a day, and thereby render the participant as what has been termed a ‘community tourist’, where the person is in the community but not really part of it, as we described in the fourth paper in this Series.
The key to making a person living with disability part of their community is the taking up of active roles in community life, on a similar basis as their non-disabled peers, and where those roles are valued by others so that the person becomes valued in their community for having those roles. These valued roles in life – such as friend, worker, club member, customer, dog owner, and similar – are what help each of us to build meaningful and fulfilling lives. At JFA Purple Orange, we call this Citizenhood.
The difference between ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ benefits
The main concern with much of what is currently termed ‘disability support’ is that it is not advancing people into Citizenhood. As we described in the third paper in this Series, there are two main types of consequences of disability and, therefore, two main types of corresponding benefits: ‘transactional’ benefits and ‘transformational’ benefits. Assistance with practical daily tasks, such as personal care, meal preparation, grocery shopping, and similar, is important but this work is a ‘transaction’, where the worker gives valued assistance, a need is met in that moment, but that need will come around again, and the assistance will be needed again. For most NDIS participants, these transactional benefits are not enough. For the NDIS to be successful and sustainable, it is critical that disability support delivers transformational benefits that do, in fact, lift people into authentic valued roles in mainstream community life, such as employment, social memberships, neighbourliness, community volunteering, and other contributing roles.
Therefore, the focus should be on building a disability workforce capable of delivering transformational benefits in the lives of participants. This has substantial implications for workforce planning. To illustrate, JFA Purple Orange worked with the families of young adults living with disability who were frustrated by their support provider’s lack of progress in connecting their family members into ordinary community opportunities. The provider was offering a typical program of daytime supports, largely centre-based, where staff had skills in organising activities for people. In discussing what hindered their family members from connecting into community life, the families spoke about how difficult they found it, due to the ever-present fear of rejection, to ask people in the community to offer welcome and opportunities, in effect, ‘to let their family member in’. In thinking about what it means to be a good ‘asker’, the families identified skills like being confident, the ability to build rapport quickly, being diplomatic, being persistent, easily recognising a person’s gifts and strengths, and being deeply committed to the rights of people living with disability. In that moment, the families reshaped the concept of a daytime disability support worker from needing skills to organise activities that deliver ‘transactional’ benefits to needing skills to ask for community welcome and inclusion that delivers ‘transformational’ benefits.
Implications for workforce recruitment
As the example above demonstrates, when the focus shifts from delivering transactional benefits to transformational benefits, the key workforce competencies change. Therefore, the focus in recruitment also shifts from people with transactional skills in organising activities, who are usually recruited from relevant training backgrounds or similar roles, to people with rights-driven, values-driven transformational skills in asking and connecting, who may come from anywhere.
This theme can be taken further to what has been termed ‘role-based recruitment’. To explain this, we note Citizenhood is both a common experience and a personal experience. It is common in that we all have similar desires for things like good health, a good job, enough money to live on, home, family, friends, growth, and so on. At the same time, it is personal in terms of how these things emerge in our lives depending on our individual preferences and passions. This is no less true for people living with disability. Therefore, it helps if a person’s support workers hold similar personal appreciation for a participant’s interests and gifts because this will enhance how they support the person. For example, if a person is a dog lover, it helps if that person’s support workers are also avid dog lovers because this will influence how they support the person to not only connect with this passion, but to find ways whereby the person’s love of dogs can bring them into valued roles in community life. Whether it is dogs, footy, chess, carpentry, music, or a myriad of other interests, recruiting workers who have an easy and heartfelt appreciation of the interest will increase the chances of a ‘transformational’ benefit emerging.
In the case of microenterprises, where a person living with disability is supported to build a small business based on a passion or strength, the support methodology is anchored on the importance of recruiting support workers who easily appreciate that passion or strength and have the skills and experience to support it. For example, if the microenterprise involves carpentry, successful support workers are more likely to be recruited from carpentry networks than more conventional support worker recruitment channels. Hence, this approach is termed ‘role-based recruitment’ and brings a different perspective to finding workers.
One of the reasons why self-managed plans work well for many people is because this allows them to recruit their own support workers and tailor their choices to their circumstances and interests. This tailoring does not just have to be limited to self-managed support arrangements. Some of the more impressive providers we have encountered over the years are those that recruit support workers to work with specific individuals rather than for a general pool where they might be working with numerous people living with disability. This approach presents the opportunity for the worker to build a deeper relationship with the person they support and have more ‘transformational’ impact as a result.
At the core of the points made in this section are values. Be it a commitment to the person’s rights; to their strengths, gifts, and passions; to lifting and sustaining them in Citizenhood roles; to getting to know them really well; what lies beneath is a heartfelt and restless appreciation of the importance of these values. For the NDIS to forge a successful future, the conception of, and recruitment for, a disability workforce must be values driven. Importantly, the places where you find genuine values-driven workers capable of delivering ‘transformational’ benefits are not always the same places where you find people who can deliver ‘transactional’ benefits.
Implications for workforce training and development
Focusing on a values-driven workforce has implications not just for recruitment but for how training happens. Plenty of educational institutions offer certificate, diploma, and degree level training and education intended to equip people to enter the disability sector as support workers, allied health professionals, educators, and so on. These offerings need to be tested on the extent to which they guide their students to a heartfelt commitment to values and to delivering ‘transformational’ benefits that lift people living with disability into Citizenhood, alongside the practical skills (for example, those mentioned above in relation to the art of asking and connecting) to bring these about.
It is important to emphasise here that values are not just rational ideas; they are emotional ideas. This raises specific imperatives for how students can be lifted and guided through these values. Lecture theatres and lecture notes are not always the primary media for building a heartfelt connection to values, nor are student placements with providers focused on ‘transactional’ benefits or on therapies somehow designed to try to ‘fix’ people living with disability rather than equipping them to advance in community life and the economy. Therefore, there is an urgent need to engage educational institutions on the content of their courses and how the national curricula can be evolved to successfully engage students on values.
Once workers enter the disability sector, there continues to be a need for values-based training. This means providers should regularly provide their staff opportunities to discuss the values that underpin their work, to attend relevant workshops, and to engage in reflective practice. In our experience, workers can learn a lot about the expression and practice of their values through talking with their workplace peers and by tuning in to the views of the people they support. NDIS pricing arrangements should reflect this and providers should be held accountable for it.
Auditing workforce practice
If values-based practice is key to the success and sustainability of the NDIS, then it should happen in ways that can be audited. We assert that as part of their continuing NDIS registration, providers should demonstrate their habits of values-driven workforce development. This can include examination of how service providers induct, train, and further develop their staff. Critically, any such audit needs to include safe channels for frontline staff, and most importantly those they support, to give feedback on the extent to which values-based practice is present and supported. If this happens, we could predict a decline in the part of the disability sector that exists for less wholesome or otherwise predatory reasons.
In support of the above, we believe that industry audit arrangements should be evolved to include a detailed social audit of the extent to which a provider is delivering on Scheme values and goals, especially in relation to a lived commitment to choice and inclusion.
The NDIS was established to deliver ‘transactional’ benefits that meet people’s daily needs and, more importantly, ‘transformational’ benefits that lift people into lives of social and economic participation, which we term Citizenhood. Key to the emergence of ‘transformational’ benefits is a workforce and broader sector that focuses on the values that underpin their work. These values include a commitment to people’s rights, to authentic mainstream community inclusion, to getting to know a person really well, and to being equipped with the practical skills and insights needed to genuinely advance people into social and economic participation. These commitments need to be heartfelt, otherwise ‘values’ are reduced to matters of regulatory compliance. A future NDIS, one that is successful and sustainable, needs an approach to workforce development that addresses how to build a workforce that is emotionally and restlessly connected to the importance of ‘transformational’ benefits.
In the next Paper in our NDIS Review Conversation Series, we will discuss market issues including how the NDIA can find the sweet spot in its market stewardship role in order to address current gaps and ensure the Scheme is both successful and sustainable.
► Join the conversation at our To The POint webinar
Tell us what you think about building a values- driven NDIS workforce, share your ideas for reform, and help raise expectations about what the NDIS Review can deliver at our thirteenth To The POint webinar on Monday, 14 August 2023 at 12:30pm ACST (that is, 1pm AEST and 11am in the West). The webinar will run for 45 minutes and feature Robbi Williams, CEO of JFA Purple Orange, discussing this Paper. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide their feedback on current workforce issues in the NDIS.
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► Our NDIS Review Conversation Series
With the NDIS Review underway, JFA Purple Orange is publishing a series of papers to help stimulate conversations about the future of the Scheme. Each fortnight, we will tackle a different topic of reform that we think is critical to the work of the NDIS Review. We strongly believe that the NDIS is an essential component of ensuring that Australians living with disability get a fair go at what life has to offer, but it must be strengthened and sustained. We are committed to playing a constructive role in developing ideas for reform that ensure the Scheme delivers on its original promise.
Watch out for Paper No.14: Market stewardship: finding the sweet spot on Monday, 21 August 2023, or visit our website to find out more about our NDIS Review Conversation Series.
► About us
JFA Purple Orange is an independent social profit organisation based in South Australia that undertakes systemic policy analysis and advocacy across a range of issues affecting people living with disability and their families. We also host a range of peer networks for people living with disability including people living with intellectual disability, physical and sensory disability, younger people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people in regional South Australia. Our work is characterised by co-design and informed by a model called Citizenhood.
► Media enquiries
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 Productivity Commission, ‘Disability Care and Support,’ Report no.54, 2011, p.694, available at https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/disability-support/report.
 Department of Social Services, ‘NDIS National Workforce Plan: 2021-2025’, June 2021, p.5, available at https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/06_2021/ndis-national-workforce-plan-2021-2025.pdf; see also NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, ‘NDIS Workforce Capability Framework’, available at https://workforcecapability.ndiscommission.gov.au/.
 NDIS Review, ‘Building a more responsive and supportive workforce’, May 2023, pp.2&6, available at https://www.ndisreview.gov.au/resources/paper/building-more-responsive-and-supportive-workforce.
 R. Williams, ‘The Model Of Citizenhood Support’, 2nd edition, 2013, available at https://www.purpleorange.org.au/what-we-do/library-our-work/model-citizenhood-support.
 On this point, we reflect on the ‘Shut Out’ report that helped create the impetus for the establishment of the NDIS, see Australian Government, ‘Shut Out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia’, 2009, available at https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/disability-and-carers/publications-articles/policy-research/shut-out-the-experience-of-people-with-disabilities-and-their-families-in-australia.
 There is a range of research and reports that consider values in the context of workforce. For example, see Department of Jobs and Small Business, ‘The labour market for personal care workers in aged and disability care – Australia 2017’, Australian Government, Canberra, 2018, available at https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/system/files/2020-06/RCD.9999.0236.0013.pdf; National Skills Commission, ‘Care Workforce Labour Market Study: Final Report’, 30 September 2021, available at https://www.nationalskillscommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-10/Care%20Workforce%20Labour%20Market%20Study.pdf; Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS, ‘NDIS Workforce Final Report’, February 2022, available at https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/National_Disability_Insurance_Scheme/workforce/Report;
J. Hurley & M. Hutchinson, ‘Carers’ experiences of the National Disability Insurance Scheme workforce: A qualitative study informing workforce development,’ The Australian Journal of Social Issues, 57(2), pp.458-471, available at https://doi.org/10.1002/ajs4.181; and Sally Robinson et al., ‘Understanding paid support relationships: possibilities for mutual recognition between young people with disability and their support workers’, Disability and Society, 36(9), pp.1423-1448, available at https://researchnow-admin.flinders.edu.au/ws/files/32743745/Robinson_Understanding_P2020.pdf.
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