Demand for NDIS services is skyrocketing, fast outpacing the supply of people who can provide them. While the disability services industry is brimming with hard-working, dedicated individuals — there simply isn’t enough of them to go around. And recruiting within this existing talent pool doesn’t support growth within the industry at large, because it requires poaching staff from other service providers.
A study from NDS reported that in 2020, more than three-quarters (79%) of disability organisations received requests for support they were unable to provide. Some estimates predict the disability workforce will need to double in size within the next three years just to keep pace with the increasing demand.
If the talent pool isn’t growing fast enough, how can service organisations build (and keep) high quality teams that can meet demand? To address this question, we surveyed frontline support workers and spoke to three industry experts on the subject. This guide is for executives at disability support organisations who want to better understand, attract and retain a world-class disability support workforce.
In this report you’ll discover:
- Fresh insights from support workers on the frontline
- Creative tactics for recruiting ‘outside the box’
- Why communication is critical to creating a supportive workplace environment
- Advice on how to create a strong internal culture that keeps staff engaged
The findings in this report come from an Australian survey of 204 respondents who are employed to provide disability support services on the NDIS. This survey was conducted in March 2021 by GoodHuman.
Employee sentiment where customer service is a priority
They are caring, they support you and appreciate everything you do. They encourage and praise you for your hard work and will do whatever they can to help and make the client’s life easier and happier.
Employee sentiment where customer service is a priority
Great company that supports both employees and clients!
Employee sentiment where customer service is a priority
"I love the person-centred approach and the care of the participant’s goals."
Employee sentiment where customer service is a priority
"Always always, the customers always come first."
Think outside the box to create a strong workforce pipeline
Staff shortages in the disability support sector is a key focus for national initiative, Boosting the Local Care Workforce. We spoke with Clare Malcolm, BLCW’s Regional Coordinator for Western Victoria to discuss all things recruitment in the disability services sector.
“Service providers need to think outside the box”, says Clare. “Don’t pop up an ad on Seek in hope of catching that one person they need to meet the needs of a client requesting services. A bigger-picture approach is needed to secure a strong workforce,” she advises.
A strong support workforce starts with dedicated individuals with the right values. To uncover where to find high quality team members and what motivates them, we went straight to the source. GoodHuman surveyed over 200 frontline disability support workers to get a snapshot of why they chose their field of work and how satisfied they were with their career.
Top 3 reasons why support workers chose to work in disability services:
64% Desire to help improve people’s lives every day
49% Personal experience with disability (yourself/friend/family member)
26% I was working in a similar field and had transferable skills
It should come as no surprise that disability support workers have a lot of heart. Almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents said they chose to pursue a career in disability support because of a desire to improve people’s lives every day.
But what the top three motivations reveal is an insight into how to attract new staff into the disability support sector. This aligns with the more creative approach that Clare Malcolm advocates for in her work with BLCW.
Clare explains, “Many providers advertise for employees that are ‘fully formed’. They want a Cert IV, all checks completed, insurance, experience within the sector. What they don’t consider is that these people are ‘unicorns’, not the norm. This type of recruitment is simply fishing in the pond of other service providers — poaching staff that tick all the boxes,” she says.
Clare advises that providers should consider the motivations of frontline support workers, finding new ways to attract talented staff with the right values and transferable skills. She adds that there is a real lack of awareness of the career opportunities presented in the disability services industry — and that highlighting this to people who have an interest in health services can influence them to reconsider employment within the sector.
Pip Jankowski, Head of People and Culture at Victorian provider, Leisure Networks, has had success with taking the time to talk to people who might not have the right skillset they’re advertising for — yet. Pip explains, “If someone contacts us looking for work, we will always make time to talk to them, understand their experience and interests. In some cases, we find a fit that we didn’t expect. For example, speaking to an ex-teacher who has great expertise in literacy but lacks experience in support services. If we have customers who are interested in improving their reading skills, we can look at putting this passion and skill to offer a new service instead of turning an eager worker away,” she says.
Creative ways to recruit and build a workforce pipeline
Word of mouth
Almost half (49%) of our survey respondents had personal experience with disability, presenting an incredible opportunity for recruitment within your existing network. Your customers have friends and family who can see firsthand the difference your staff have in peoples’ lives.
Andrew Erskine, Chief Operating Officer at GoodHuman and experienced recruiter advises adopting a referrals program and running career information sessions for friends and family. “There are opportunities within your network to find people that already see the difference that your staff have in peoples’ lives,” says Andrew. Don’t forget to include your staff in these programs — 80% of frontline support workers surveyed said they would be happy to recommend their primary employer to a friend or family member.
Hospitals and other health facilities
Unless you’re looking for doctors or nurses, a hospital might seem like an unlikely place to focus recruitment efforts. And yet, Clare has seen how successful this can be at attracting people who are already exposed to the healthcare sector. Clare explains, “I worked with a provider that actively recruits through advertising within the hospital sector and staff were suggesting a career in disability support to their partners. Exposure to the care profession is what gave these new employees the idea to explore the sector and they had extraordinary job satisfaction,” she says.
Universities and TAFE
Many students studying nursing or health services haven’t considered work in the disability sector. There is an opportunity to target people who are actively engaged in the care industries, who might be interested in working in disability support service. Casual or part-time work can be an attractive opportunity to gain skills and experience in the sector that they’re training to operate in.
Clare adds that there are plenty of industries that foster transferable skills. “In 2020, we saw a lot of people in TAFE and training colleges were coming into the disability services sector from industries that were impacted by the public health crisis such as tourism, hospitality, and retail,” explains Clare.
Promoting career pathways
Your staff are inspirational. And yet, their stories are not always shared widely. “You always see glossy ads for the police force and the defence force, but no one seems to know about the disability sector being a growth employer with lots of avenues and pathways for career development,” notes Clare. “There are great stories out there, they should be shared to let others know that those opportunities exist,” she adds.
Clare says that social media is becoming more prevalent for recruitment, particularly younger staff. It’s an area where people are very engaged and can help tap into word of mouth referrals, as well as showcasing staff success stories. Consider how your online presence can work to attract quality team members.
"There are always external factors that we can’t control, but what we can control is how we interact with each other. Leisure Networks has a relentless focus on our people and company culture. It’s created a highly engaged workforce and helps us attract candidates to jobs without spending much money."
Improve communication to create an environment that supports your workforce
Ensuring that your team members feel comfortable and supported in their roles is crucial to making sure they stick around and contribute to your growth as an organisation.
Andrew says that employers should be working on their brand and reputation at every stage of the recruitment process. “It goes full circle. From awareness to onboarding and training — when people feel supported and successful, they’re more likely to speak highly of your brand and refer other people,” he says Andrew.
35% of support workers feel they do not receive enough information about customers before beginning shifts.
Our survey showed that as many as 35% of frontline staff don’t feel supported by their employers. Underprepared employees not only create a risk to your service delivery, it impacts your reputation as an employer. In this section, we’re going to address how to make sure this doesn’t become an issue for your organisation.
Of the respondents who would recommend their employer, the majority (73%) felt they were given adequate information to best support their customers before their shifts. This plummeted to 35% among those who would not recommend their employer. This is in line with Andrew’s advice and surfaces a key indicator of employee satisfaction — feeling prepared and comfortable with the customers they are working with.
Sentiment from employees who would recommend their employer
“The communication and assistance the company provides is extremely helpful and the company make me feel valuable”
“They are supportive and helpful, always looking after their workers. Will literally clear their schedule and make time if you need to debrief. They understand it can be a very full-on job and they take the time to make sure you are fully supported in your role.”
Sentiment from employees who would not recommend their employer
“There is little to no support to workers, I am not often given much information about my clients which could lead to a safety risk.”
“They have never met me and do not know my strengths or skills. I am a phone number and a body, not a person.”
“I work in dangerous situations where participants have lots of physically aggressive behaviours and managers do not check in with the workers.”
As you can see from the quotes above, a supportive environment and access to information prior to shifts is critical to employee satisfaction and personal safety.
How to improve communication and support for frontline workers
Andrew says that guidance before shifts is a key factor in helping staff feel supported — and it’s been a big focus for GoodHuman. “No one wants to feel like they’ve been thrown in the deep end. Going into a customer’s home without enough background information on their history or what they need to feel supported is incredibly overwhelming. No one should have to turn up to a shift without the knowledge they need to provide excellent and consistent support,” explains Andrew.
GoodHuman’s operating system empowers team members to submit their case notes within an app. This was designed not only to save on admin time — but also to support other team members within your organisation. Staff working with a customer for the first time can access their history and feel confident that they know what to expect.
This has a twofold effect: customers also feel more supported and less like a number. Explaining their history to a new staff member can be stressful and make the situation more difficult for everyone. By empowering staff with information, they can provide better service and are more likely to feel satisfied with that interaction.
Given that the majority of support workers (64%) listed a desire to help people as a key motivator to getting into the industry, it’s no surprise that customer-centricity correlated directly with negative and positive sentiment about employers.
Three strategies you can implement to keep your workforce
As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, building your reputation as an employer of choice supports your recruitment and success long-term. Clare says service organisations should be doing more to protect their investment in finding the right people. “Recruitment is such an expensive and laborious process, investing in retaining good people is worth just as much — if not more — than initial recruitment,” she explains.
A strong internal culture is the cornerstone of Leisure Networks’ success and is something they have worked hard to achieve.
Pip reminds us that communication is critical, on every level. “Our people do difficult, challenging work, but it’s also really rewarding for them. It’s our responsibility to work hard on addressing their concerns and show them that we are taking action where necessary,” explains Pip. “We don’t just share our strategic plans, we get them involved. All staff should contribute to the impact we have as an organisation,” she adds.
Staff engagement surveys
Would your staff recommend your organisation as an employer? The only way to be sure is to ask. Pip kindly shared with us an example of the ways that Leisure Networks uses regular staff engagement and surveys to ensure their employees are satisfied with their work:
Leisure Network’s Retention Initiatives
- Annual staff engagement surveys: The results are shared with the whole organisation and we communicate not just the results, but also the actions we plan to take. We also follow up with a mid-year pulse survey to see how we’re doing and remain accountable.
- Annual focus theme: At the start of each year we pick a single area of focus to exceed in and give the entire organisation a shared goal to work toward. This year it’s learning and development.
- Continuous feedback: We have channels for people to give and receive feedback regularly, taking note of what is and isn’t working well.
- Personalised approach: We take the time to thank every staff member and will send personalised notes, not blanket emails to ensure people feel seen and valued.
“In addition to this approach at the top level of their organisation, managers are tasked with checking in regularly with frontline staff and managing feedback with them directly,” says Pip.
Our survey showed that less than half (42%) of employees have monthly check-ins with their manager, but of those people that do — 96% would recommend working for their employer.
Tip for getting started on internal surveys: There are lots of simple ways to get started on reviewing your internal culture. Check out online survey tools like SurveyMonkey or get more in-depth support on internal culture from a service such as CultureAmp.
Smarter rostering to support employee goals
When you have discovered what matters most to your employees, how do you put it in action? It’s a question that we have been working to solve within the workforce features of the GoodHuman platform. Andrew explains, “We know that support workers have an incredibly unique relationship with their customers. When it works well, customers enjoy their company and there is strong job satisfaction for staff. After all, improving quality of life is why they do it in the first place. We want to help service organisations be more deliberate in the way they match their workers — better aligning skills and interests to the right clients. When your staff feel like they’re making a valued contribution, retaining people becomes easier,” he says.
GoodHuman’s smart rostering function can ensure you pair clients with team members based on any number of attributes — qualifications, life experience, hobbies and interests, their location.
“GoodHuman can solve a lot of common gripes that staff have,” says Andrew. “Smarter rostering can mean not just matching staff to the right customers, but also reducing travel time by rostering efficiently and reducing unpaid admin time by enabling employees to record everything in the app on the go,” he explains.
Regular acknowledgement of staff
Providing support should never feel like thankless work. In order to create opportunities to recognise the work staff do, organisations need to have channels to ask for feedback from their customers — and ensure that it’s shared.
“A thank you goes a really long way,” says Pip. “Our staff are very passionate about their work, so if we receive feedback, we make sure we do something about it. People are individually recognised through their team leaders, and we also run peer-voted awards for those who demonstrate the company culture,” she explains.
Acknowledgement is another example of how technology can improve outcomes for both customers and staff. As GoodHuman is a fully connected platform between both customers and service organisations, customers have an opportunity to connect directly with their service provider. This allows them to leave feedback for their support workers, including their thanks.
Andrew explains, “It’s common that families only hear from their providers when an incident occurs and providers only hear from families when they’re unsatisfied. There’s not a lot of opportunity for positive reinforcement or to celebrate when things are going well,” he says.
“Most provider organisations don’t have a mechanism to collect that feedback in a formal, but simple channel. GoodHuman is making it easier for families to give feedback and improve outcomes for everyone involved. Many employees don’t do this for the money, they genuinely enjoy supporting people. It’s incredibly important that this doesn’t go unrecognised and feedback goes a long way in ensuring they feel valued for the service they provide,” continues Andrew.
The advice in this guide is designed to support your workforce planning and strategic approach to catering for demand on the NDIS. To find out more about how GoodHuman’s platform can provide your organisation with the technology outlined in this guide — from improved communication between staff and customers, to advanced rostering and client-matching — request a demo below.
For further resources on workforce development planning, check out the below resources from NDS and BLCW:
National Disability Services: Workforce Planning Guide
Boosting the Local Care Workforce: Resources to grow your workforce
Boosting the Local Care Workforce: Demand map for NDIS services in Australia