We spoke to Paula Holden, Executive General Manager of People and Culture at Endeavour about the workforce challenges facing the disability sector, engaging staff during a period of change and how they are preparing for the Royal Commission.
Ms Holden has worked for over two decades both in and out of the disability space with responsibility for large workforces across geographically dispersed regions.
She attributes the dwindling disability workforce to a combination of sector growth and competing for talent against the health and aged care sectors.
“First and foremost, it’s getting enough people into the sector. The cost of the NDIS will increase substantially over the next four years, we’re one year into that. So we’re anticipating it’ll be about a $40 billion market and that’s such an exponential growth that actually attracting enough workers to the sector is going to be a massive thing for us.
“Amongst that, we’re also competing with a growing aged care market and there’s been some debate about whether we’re attracting the same market but I think in essence as that talent pool we will have to become more and more aligned.
“There’s not a lot of data to support the idea that people are transitioning at the moment but I think as that market gets tighter, we will see more of the roles merging.”
She also flags the disability sector’s industrial awards which she describes us as inflexible and restricts providers from being agile. While organisations are required to provide staff with minimum four hour shifts, a customer is entitled to cancel within a couple of hours.
“We’re at odds, in essence, and that’s making it hard for us to attract and retain quality people to the sector. Given that if they were working in a different environment, it’s really hard to compete with aged care or health care where they’re able to offer them either a far greater level of remuneration or flexibility under some of their agreements.”
Ms Holden says Endeavour is undertaking significant organisational change. With 5,000 employees across Australia, the organisation has had to ensure their messaging is well-planned, clear, concise and consistent.
One of the most important tools they’ve started using is video so “people can not only engage with the message but really get the intent behind that message.” While they still use communication methods such as newsletters and emails, they are now employed as follow-ups or reminders.
The messaging, Ms Holden says, is always brought back to the company purpose and bringing it back to the customer.
Organisational change is made much easier when the workforce is engaged and the right fit for the company’s purpose. To achieve this, Ms Holden offers two pieces of advice.
The first is “recruit the right people – and we do values-based recruitment here at Endeavour. Particularly with our support workers, which is our biggest cohort of employees. They could have been working at McDonald’s yesterday and they can come and work with us today but they just need to have the right values set and we can train them along that disability trajectory.”
The second: “listen to them and respond accordingly. We do annual surveys, we’re still in that boat which is a little bit old but when we have those surveys, we are responding and actioning very visibly to their concerns or whatever has been raised.”
With regard to preparing for the Royal Commission, she says it’s vital to have an articulated position.
“At Endeavour, we’ve articulated our support for the Royal Commission. We’ve even prepared staff with with a lot of communication about what they can expect from us. What they can expect from the process, we’ve also educated the families.
“We’ve quite openly displayed our support through media releases and so forth and again reiterated that through all of our staff forums, though Yama, on the Intranet, on our Facebook pages, on our website, we’ve been really clear and transparent on that messaging and given points of escalation where necessary.”
Endeavour has also given their front line leaders “dot points they can talk to if they’re not sure what to say.”
It’s vital to equip your workforce with the tools and information they need during the Royal Commission. Endeavour has provided their front line leaders with notes they can talk to if they’re questioned by stakeholders, and there are many more things your organisation can be doing to ensure success.
The Strengthening the NDIS Workforce conference, running from 29 – 31 October in Sydney, will unpack the key issues currently impacting on the NDIS workforce and strategies that organisations are utilising to recruit staff who share the right values and attitudes. It will also discuss how to overcome challenges with retention and unpack how reform, including the Royal Commission, will impact upon staff morale and engagement.