The Elephant in the Room: NDIS Workforce

In June 2015, the Department of Social Services published the NDIS Integrated Market, Sector and Workforce Strategy. The report anticipates that as a result of the NDIS, the disability sector workforce will need to more than double in size between 2015 and 2019-20. This represents an increase from approximately 73,600 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers to an estimated 162,000 FTE workers. That is 88,400 new jobs.

The report recognises that disability service providers need to play a vital role in increasing the available workforce supply. Providers are urged to offer flexible workforce options that attract employees. It suggests other initiatives, such as special immigration visas and various efforts to attract school leavers. 

Critically, the report stresses that to be sustainable, workforce development needs to occur independently of government intervention.

More recently, in May this year, the Department of Employment released their report, Labour Market, 2017 Industry Employment Projections - 5 years to May 2022. It estimates that jobs growth in residential care and social assistance will need to increase 15.6% and 17.3% respectively. In Allied Health, the growth rate dramatically rises to 29.6%.  Growth rates of this magnitude have rarely been seen in any industry over the past ten years.

To put the numbers in perspective, the new positions required to service the NDIS are approximately:

  • 15% of all current unemployed Australians[1]
  • 4 times the total workforce of BHP Billiton
  • Equal to the entire working population of Hobart or 1.5x working population of Cairns, or 1.3 x Newcastle, or 2 x Bendigo.


So how Are We Tracking?

The ABS recently released data relating to employment from the 2016 Census. This data notes that one of the fastest growing employment areas has been the community and personal services market, which saw a growth rate of approximately 19%. This market includes nursing, aged care, home care, disability care, child care and educational support.

Initially, this data is encouraging. It suggests that employment growth to service the NDIS has exceeded the estimates made in 2015.

However, the broad nature of the market grouping demands further digging to determine the extent to which the growth rate is relevant to the NDIS workforce. Further examination shows us that within the sectors that directly relate to the NDIS workforce, the growth has been less than 10% in the last four years. This is significantly less than is needed to meet the forecasted demand.

The national unemployment rate is currently sitting at 5.5%, which equates to approximately 716,000 unemployed persons in Australia. Unemployment amongst the younger population is far higher at 11.2% nationally. In regional areas such as Cairns, youth unemployment reached 27.5 % in August 2017.

There seems to be a disconnect here. On the one hand, we have an emerging sector with close to 90,000 FTE positions that is struggling to ramp up to meet demand, and yet there are over 700,000 Australians seeking work.

With respect to employment opportunities, the NDIS appears to be invisible.  A recent national news article (31 October) quoted Mr Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations, calling for the reinstatement of the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) to curb unemployment. At no stage in his article was there any reference made to the nearly 90,000 positions currently (or very shortly) available.


How Can We Fix The Problem?

Think back to the last time you listened to or read something about the NDIS within the mainstream media. It is likely that the topic would have been something along the lines of:

  • NDIS is short of funding and we all have to pay for it, or
  • NDIS is running late and it wont hit the target, or
  • NDIS is letting people down, etc.

It seems that despite the teething problems of the NDIS rollout (and I will not for a minute understate how real and serious some of these issues are) there is an invisible yet massive good news story within the NDIS that no-one is grasping.

The NDIS workforce demand has the potential to reduce the national unemployment rate by up to 1.5%. That would bring the unemployment rate back to record low levels not seen since the mining boom before the GFC. It also has real potential to significantly reduce youth and regional unemployment rates. These are all problems that state and federal governments have been throwing money at for years with few tangible results to show for it.

Further, the flow on effects within the economy, even from a sector that historically has relatively low incomes, cannot be ignored. A reduction in unemployment equates to an increase in economic activity.

So with this massive positive outcome looming for the broader Australian economy, why aren’t we seeing television advertisements promoting a career in the disability sector? Why aren’t we seeing job creation strategies from the state and territory governments directly linked to the sector?

To fix the NDIS workforce problem and reduce unemployment the federal government needs do everything it can to inform the public about this huge employment opportunity the likes of which we have not seen since the heady days of the mining boom. The NDIS has the potential to provide over 90,000 FTE positions in a sector that offers truly rewarding career opportunities to a very broad range of candidates. Linking employment within the NDIS to job creation initiatives across the country could result in dramatic, short-term results that have a positive impact on all of society.  


[1] Labour Force Australia, ABS, Sept 2017