Australia’s Human Services workforce needs significant, immediate and permanent changes to get in front of a burgeoning demand issue that is nearly upon us, according to a new report.

While critical staff shortages in nursing homes during COVID-19 outbreaks recently drew national attention, the systemic and urgent workforce issues across all Human Services industries, including aged care, disability services, early childhood education, allied health and veteran’s support, is rapidly overwhelming an already strained system.

The Human Services Skills Organisation Workforce Forum Report, launched at a CEO breakfast in Hobart this morning, revealed critical issues and pain points facing the sector. Human Services is the fastest growing industry in the Australian economy with an additional 250,000 jobs needed to meet the escalating demand by 2025.

HSSO CEO Jodi Schmidt said stakeholders at the forums, including employers and training organisations, were vocal in the need to take a fundamentally different approach to tackle the problems at hand.

“Human services is the fastest growing industry in the Australian economy and providing skilled workers in the right place at the right time is our most pressing challenge,” she said.

“The innate difficulty of the task that lies ahead is the need to move the dial on everything at once. It is not an incremental evolution – it is a significant revolution that requires immediate change, while simultaneously adopting even more change.”

“We must urgently get ahead of the curve to meet the challenges of the human services workforce demand that are nearly upon us. It is in our national interest to do so”.

The HSSO is tasked with helping the sector to find new ways to source, attract and skill a workforce pipeline. The Workforce Forums were aimed at bringing employers and training organisations together to identify their most crucial workforce challenges.

Qualitative analysis of the information gathered revealed seven main areas of concern including recruitment, working conditions, employee value proposition, workforce pipeline, ongoing training and development, career pathways and new worker training initiatives.

Ms Schmidt said the Workforce Forums unearthed nuanced complexities of a sector under pressure from long term and dynamic conditions.

“From the changing nature of individuals, and their demand for more personalised care and support, through to the shifting market forces of an aging population, the need for growing digital literacy, and the inherent challenges for a sector looking to redefine its employee value proposition, the Human Service sector is steeped in workforce development challenges. Layered over the top has been the rolling impact of COVID-19,” she said.

Ms Schmidt said it was overwhelmingly acknowledged at the Forums that to make permanent change, greater societal recognition was required.

“We need to encourage all Australians to advocate for quality care. We need to take greater responsibility and ownership of it. We need to make a choice and set the standard for all vulnerable Australians,” she said.

More than 500 people attended the workforce forums nationally, and the HSSO has engaged more broadly with more than 800 organisations, representing employers, sector peak bodies and registered training organisations. Many employers reported they are caught on a relentless treadmill of solving the workforce challenges of today – or even the next shift.

Together with the sector, the HSSO is tasked with finding new sustainable workforce solutions. New ways to source, attract and skill a workforce pipeline, to test and adopt new workforce practices, improve productivity, introduce new technology and approaches to workforce development.

Since the 1990s the human services sector has been the single biggest contributor to the Australian economy. The country’s ageing population and commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme will see the sector grow at almost double the rate of any other industry with an additional 250,000 jobs needed to meet the escalating demand for these services by 2025.

“Effective and future-oriented workforce development strategies, and increased industry engagement, are critical to building a skilled workforce that can meet future challenges,” said Ms Schmidt.

“We wanted to shine a light on the real issues to help us collectively identify where we can effectively make our start.”

Access the report