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Strap yourself in for the support and care workforce “boom” Analysis

Strap yourself in for the support and care workforce “boom”


This is an edited version of Emma King’s address to a series of business, government and community leaders at the Victorian Government’s inaugural Regional Futures Summit in Bendigo. 

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The National Disability Insurance Scheme is one of the great achievements of modern Australia. Like the introduction of Medicare in 1975 or the opening up of the national economy in the 1980’s, the NDIS a reform that will deliver benefits long after those of us in this room have moved on.

It will be something future generations look back on and wonder “what was Australia like without it?” To quote Annabel Crabb, it’s also a “powerful rebuttal to that contemporary whine about big policy reforms being too hard for our short political attention spans”.

First, some background.

The NDIS is a new support system for Australians with disability. It’s person centred. For the first time, people will have a say in the kind of support they receive. Their individual needs will be assessed and a tailored package will be developed.

People can then decide which service providers they want to use. “Choice and control” will underpin everything.

Support packages will also be portable. If your move interstate, so does your support entitlement. The scheme itself is demand driven. Which is great because it means everybody who needs care should get it.


This graph maps how many people are expected to use the NDIS over the coming years. That green dot is us. At the bottom of that giant hill.

By 2022, more than half a million people will use the NDIS.

All this has an associated price tag, though it should be seen as an opportunity for investment, not a cost. Annual spending on disability is expected to reach $25 billion over the same timeframe. This will be partly funded by an increase in the Medicare levy.


But money isn’t the only input necessary. Arguably, it’s not even the most important one.

This rapid expansion in disability support—without even mentioning the burgeoning aged care sector—is going to demand a whole new workforce.

In 2014, the Commonwealth Department of Employment estimated Australia will need an additional 230,000 social care and support workers over the next five years. According to Deloitte Access Economics, Victoria alone will need an extra 200,000 ‘Health Care and Social Assistance’ workers over the next 15 years.

And for a variety of reasons, people with disability are disproportionately more likely to live outside the capital cities. That means these jobs are coming to a regional center near you.

These are the jobs of the future.

Of course, there are challenges.

The first is – where will this new workforce come from? Where do we find these workers?

The second is – how do we ensure this workforce is highly educated and well trained?  After all, it’s going to be a competitive marketplace. Training must be of the highest standard.

The VET-FEE HELP debacle of recent years has taught us a few lessons about what happens when education providers are given too much free reign.

Thirdly – how do we make sure this new workforce will be subject to appropriate accreditation requirements and oversight mechanisms? 

Markets don’t have a great track record of looking after the most vulnerable or disadvantaged in our society. We’ve seen in aged care what happens when private operators are let loose without appropriate checks-and-balances.

This can’t be allowed to happen in disability care.

The good news is that educators and political leaders are alert to this challenge. The Victorian Government recently committed half a million dollars to help establish a new research and teaching organisation, the Future Social Service Institute. The Institute will be based at RMIT University and, full disclosure, VCOSS is also a founding partner.

Once operational, the Institute will drive a powerful reform agenda. Its mission will be simple: to transform the social support and care sector into an economic powerhouse by recasting it as a strong industry with professional career paths.

This will involve the rollout of new qualifications, initially at the vocational level, that will attract the best high school graduates. If we get this right, Australia’s brightest Year 12 students will increasingly look to social support and care as their first career choice.

And as mentioned, a lot of these jobs will be in regional areas, which unfortunately also have a large amount of disadvantaged job seekers. These jobs will be there for the taking. More mature workers from declining industries are also on the radar.

You look at a town like Ballarat which is still feeling the loss of manufacturing jobs… these are the local retraining opportunities you’ve been looking for.

Another bit of good news for Victoria is that we are at the forefront of this growth. We are in the box seat.

The NDIS, which is now rolling out nationally, began in Geelong. Victoria is the scheme’s de facto headquarters.

The Future Social Service Institute will be based in Melbourne, working alongside Victoria’s community sector and leveraging relationships developed by VCOSS over a long period of time. No similar organisation exists anywhere else in Australia.

Victoria has the natural advantage and is enjoying the political leadership to take full advantage of the times. So my message today is not to fear the future, but to embrace it. Yes there are challenges, but if handled correctly, we’re looking at;

      • More jobs for Victorian workers.
      • Better care and support services for Victorians with disability.
      • And a strong economic return for Victoria as a whole.

It’s win-win-win. Let’s grasp this future with both hands.