How do we ignite young people to work in the disability sector?

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) promises to transform the lives of people with disability, and deliver an economic boost for all Australians by creating thousands of jobs. At the recent launch of an Empowering Youth Initiative designed to encourage young people to work in the disability sector, David Moody, National Disability Services State Manager – Victoria, talked about opportunities to develop and grow the disability workforce of the future.

How do we ignite young people to work in the disability sector? It’s a great question because developing and growing the disability workforce of the future is one of the hottest issues faced by the sector in this period of great disruptive change.

As the National Disability Insurance Scheme rolls out, I think we can be optimistic about our capacity to create a sector which will be recognised as an employer of choice for an increasing number of Victorian workers in the fastest growing state in Australia. And while our optimism may be tempered by the reality of the magnitude of the task ahead, it can only be strengthened by initiatives and innovations such as the virtual reality work experience tool we are launching today

We know that demand for Victorian disability workers will grow exponentially over the next few years. In order to meet this demand, the Victorian workforce will have to increase by more than 18,000 FTE. Nationally, workforce growth is projected to go as high as 300,000 workers, and not less than 180,000. This would mean our sector is responsible for the most significant economic and jobs growth boom in Australia’s history.

In regard to the newest potential workers in our sector – the Millennials – we know they are more likely to ‘job hop’, with some suggesting that the typical Millennial will have 7 careers and 15 jobs in their lifetime. We also know, however, that Millennials are more concerned than their predecessors with finding happiness and fulfilment in their work lives.

We know people with disability and their informal support networks are demanding more in home and in community support. As this trend continues, we know that workers will increasingly be working unsupervised and more remotely, connected to their workplace (or ‘home base’) by only their mobile device and other web and cloud-based tools.

Alternatively, these workers may be attracted to work directly for those people with disability wishing to self-manage their supports.

We know people with disability are increasingly demanding access to mainstream services and supports, and are seeking workers and organisations who can make this happen (in education, sport and recreational opportunities).

We know NDIS roll-out and development of the new disability workforce is occurring during the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. This is the digital revolution, that has been occurring since the middle of the 20th Century, and which has seen a fusion of technologies, ‘blurring the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres’. Think Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, the ‘Internet of Things’, self-driving vehicles and 3-D printing, to name but a few examples.

This said, and this is in part why we can be optimistic about the future of work in our sector, many commentators suggest that sectors such as ours will continue to offer rich opportunities for employment because the work performed cannot easily be robotised or automated.

Specifically, working in the disability sector requires social and creative intelligence, empathy, intuition, nuance and personality. These attributes are not found in robots or machines. Until they are (and even if they are), demand for the services provided by our sector will be met by human beings and not machines. 

The disability support worker of the future will combine the personal with the professional. So, what do we know already about the disability professional of the future and their likely personal and professional characteristics?

They will be ‘customer focused’, aware of the importance of providing supports which meet the customer’s needs, and driven by values and behaviours which shape the way they do their job to support people with disability to realise their goals and aspirations.

They will be comfortable working remotely and unsupervised, in part because they will be ‘tech savvy’ and capable of remaining connected to their fellow workers and their organisation or agency.

We can be reasonably confident that some of the most highly sought after and ‘in demand’ workers will explore opportunities to work for themselves. Online platforms that allow these workers to be found by clients are already being established across the country.

Others will see themselves working with more autonomy and independence in self-directed teams for organisations that have realised that empowered frontline workers are able to respond effectively and efficiently to the individual needs of the people they support on a day to day basis. The seeds of this approach are already happening on a very small scale in various parts of Australia under the NDIS.

Many workers will be comfortable working in fixed term contract and casual forms of employment (particularly Millennials); however, others will seek permanent employment which supports their future financial and personal aspirations and recognises their increased professionalism and commitment to ongoing training and professional development. These workers may seek training opportunities which allow them to work across the community services sector, making them and their skills more marketable.

There will be an increasing number of men working in the disability sector, in part be due to the demise of our heavy manufacturing sector and in part as a result of the growing availability of good jobs in our sector, with consumers increasingly choosing male support workers.

For those in our community who are not yet working in our sector, but who may wish to, I say check it out, give it a go, and explore your options to work in one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy, the disability sector. Consider dedicating yourself to a professional life supporting others in our community to be part of that community and to live a great life.