Current Challenges of the Community Service Sector in Australiaby Oli Kang Lifelong education
Learn why the community services sector plays an important role in supporting Australia's welfare system and what are its biggest challenges and proposed solutions.
The community service sector has a central role in the development of any society that cares for its citizens’ well-being and prosperity. This sector provides services for a wide range of needs, including child care, aged care, and support for people with disabilities. It promotes healthy functioning of a country by making significant social and economic contributions.
The sector is as diverse as the people it offers assistance to. It consists of many organisations that range from small to large, local to national, all created with the goal to bring positive change in the lives of people and communities, especially to those who are most vulnerable.
However, the community service sector faces many challenges on multiple fronts. Rising costs, an ageing workforce, and lack of professional education are only some of the issues. In order to survive this ongoing crisis, Australia needs policy interventions in the field of recruitment and retention, professional development, education and training, and career pathways.
Quick Facts About Australia’s Community Service Sector
The community service sector caters to millions of Australians by offering care and counsel to those in need. The most vulnerable members of the society are the children, the elderly, and the economically disadvantaged. The national picture of Australia’s community services is the following:
- Roughly 7,000 of the charities are community service charities;
- Nearly 20% of all charities are community service charities;
- Aged care charities account for 3% of all registered charities;
- The major drivers of demand are the ageing population and child care;
- The number of enterprises offering community services will grow by 2.6% by 2024;
- Over 70% of community service charities are based in NSW (31.1%), Victoria (23.9%) or Queensland (17.0%).
- The community service charities have the main activity of aged care activities, economic, social and community development, employment and training, civic and advocacy activities, mental health and crisis intervention, and social services.
Current Challenges Reported by Organisations
The community service sector is currently facing a number of challenges. They are as they follow:
An ageing workforce.
One of the most concerning challenges is the ageing workforce. A study by the NSW Council of Social Service reports that many of the workers are approaching retirement age, especially those in small organisations. The study found that 1 in 4 workers were aged 55 or over. In organisations with 5 or fewer staff, 1 in 3 workers were 55 or older, and only a few of the staff were aged under 25.
Lack of workforce diversity.
Moreover, the same study found that the majority of the workers were women, with women completely staffing 1 of 5 of the organisations.
There’s an additional problem with workers’ qualifications. On average, 2 in 5 workers had degree level qualifications. The organisations that focused on health-related services employed workers with higher education, while the organisations that were centered on ageing, disability and career services employed under-qualified workers.
Issues with recruiting and retaining workers.
Many of the organisations in the community service sector reported having difficulties recruiting and retaining workers as a result of insufficient funding. The wages that they can offer are too low, especially if the worker lives in a metropolitan area like Sydney. Roughly 40% of the organisations reported having difficulties recruiting and retaining degree qualified practitioners. They had the most trouble with recruiting multilingual workers, solicitors, Aboriginal workers, and allied health workers.
Part-time and casual employment.
Apart from an ageing workforce and difficulty recruiting staff, the community service sector reported having difficulties with high rates of part-time and casual employment. Roughly 50% of the workers in NSW were employed on a permanent basis, 18% were fixed term, and 31% were employed casually. The percentage of casual employment on a national level is 24%. Uncertainty about the continuity of funding is the main reason for organisations offering casual positions.
Lack of professional development.
Professional development is another drawback on the long list of challenges. Many of the organisations in the community service sector reported that their workers don’t have access to professional development. On average, the workers only spend 6 days in professional development per year. The main reason for this lack of professional development are the high costs of training. Additionally, many organisations reported being unable to cover the positions while the staff attends training.
There is great dissatisfaction with supplementation from the government. Organisations reported that supplementation is too low and/or that it isn’t provided by all government funders or for all programs.
Proposed Solutions to Support a Strong Community Service Sector
Studies show that one-quarter of the current workforce will be at retirement age over the next decade. For this reason, many experts stress the importance of appropriate transition of knowledge from the older generations to the younger generation. There should be clear education and training pathways for those who wish to enter the community service sector. One of the proposed solutions includes a coordinated approach to professional development and in-service training across the community service sector. Government funding needs to include on-the-job training and professional development of staff.
Currently, there are many organisations that provide community service training in Australia. This is a great way for prospective workers to get qualifications, including certificates and diplomas. From training for caregivers and rehabilitation counsellors to training for early childhood teachers and mental health workers, there is a wide range of courses to choose from. There is a broad demand for these new courses in the new person-centered service environment as they can allow greater movement of employees across the industry.
The community service sector will become even more attractive to prospective workers if it offered a higher pay. Fairer pricing arrangements will attract and retain high-skilled staff who will work adequate hours and will have a higher job security.
Moreover, the challenge of short-term contracts is a result of short-term government funding. Longer funding agreements can terminate this issue. Longer-term funding agreements will provide greater certainty to the workforce and will create longer employment contracts and permanent opportunities.
Promoting workforce diversity is also essential for the future of the community service industry. Many organisations in Australia need more information and guidance on how to encourage workforce diversity. This challenge can be resolved through proactive policies, diversity targets and identified positions, targeted advertising of positions through networks, and partnerships with particular services.
Overall, the future of community services in Australia lies in the sector’s capacity to advocate for proactive policies and reforms, a more sustainable workforce, and longer-term funding. The ageing of the workforce, the high levels of job uncertainty, and the lack of qualified staff should be effectively addressed by the community service industry in order to ensure successful development in the upcoming years.
Created on Aug 21st 2018 19:23. Viewed 839 times.
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