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Lack of career opportunities risks community services professionals leaving, new study finds

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Professionals providing vital care and support to those living with disabilities and disadvantages were proud to work in their sector but are likely to leave unless there are more opportunities to progress and develop new skills, according to new HESTA research.

Released today, the State of the Sector 2021: Community and Disability Workforce Insights report found around one in six community services professionals surveyed were planning to leave the sector in the next two years. Almost a third of young professionals aged between 18 and 39 said they were planning to exit in the short term.

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said the risk of losing skilled staff could jeopardise the ability of the already strained health and community services workforce to meet expected future demand.

“Community and disability services professionals have been at the coalface of the pandemic, providing care and support in a time of extreme uncertainty and instability,” Blakey said.

“What’s most concerning is that younger professionals are most likely to plan on leaving, risking a deepening gap in skills and experience unless career and training opportunities are improved.”

The research showed the community services workforce had the highest job pride and satisfaction in 2020 compared to other health and community services sectors surveyed. They also were most likely to recommend a career in their sector.

Nevertheless, there were significant workforce-building challenges with almost 30% of community services respondents not recommending their employer, leader or a career in the industry.

While disability service workers were the most likely to recommend a career in community services and were strong advocates of their employer, they were among the least likely to recommend their leaders. Pointing to the need to build leadership capability across the sector, nearly a third of disability services professionals also would not recommend their leader or manager.

But encouragingly, the research revealed the community services workforce showed strong improvements in positive sentiment towards employers, the sectors and leaders after the outbreak of COVID-19 compared to 2019, providing potential opportunities for employers and government.

“There is positive news and a good foundation to build on in terms of the sector’s workforce strategies,” Blakey said.

“Strengthening career pathways, providing more training opportunities and leadership development can help retain experienced professionals and attract the people we’ll need to meet expected future demand.”

The research also shone a light on high levels of financial insecurity of employees in the sector.

HESTA community services members have the second-lowest median super balances at retirement across health and community services. Women in disability services had the lowest median super balance with just $130,000 at retirement compared to $193,000 for men in disability services.

“Addressing systemic issues in community and disability services like high workforce casualisation, significant periods of unpaid work and travel time and the lack of training opportunities will be critical to creating secure, high-quality jobs and working conditions. And that’s going to help attract and retain more professionals to the sectors and improve retirement outcomes.”

This is the third and final report in the 2021 State of the Sector health and community sectors workforce insights series, following the release of HESTA’s aged care and early childhood education workforce reports earlier this year.

The research analysed the views of more than 4600 HESTA members working in health and community services, which asked about their workplace experiences, job intentions and industry outlook before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly 1000 HESTA community services members, including nearly 200 disability services professionals, responded.

The reports help paint a picture of the broader health and community services workforce, highlighting key areas to support workforce attraction and retention solutions.

“HESTA’s more than 900,000 members across the sector gives us access to unique insights, which can help identify workforce challenges and inform solutions that can strengthen the delivery of these critical services. By improving the experience of those working in the sector, we believe we can help enhance our members’ lifetime earning potential and improve their financial futures,” Blakey said.

The report is available at Key findings – community services sector

  • Around one in six were planning to leave the sector in the next two
  • Professionals aged 18 to 39 were the least likely to be planning to stay with their employer and in the sector in the short term. Nearly 30% of the 30 to 39-year-old cohort were planning to leave the sector in the next two 
  • Around a quarter were detractors of their employers and a career in the industry, 
  • Nearly 30% would not recommend their leaders or
  • Social workers were the least likely to recommend a career in the sector
  • Highest job pride and satisfaction compared to other health and community services sectors and were most likely to recommend a career in their sector
  • Strong correlation between how positive respondents felt about career opportunities and whether they would recommend their employer. Those who did not feel positive about career opportunities in their industry were significantly more likely to be detractors of their 
  • Lack of career opportunities, wanting to develop new skills and try something different were the top reasons why the workforce wanted to leave their 

Key findings – disability services professionals

  • Nearly one in three (31%) would not recommend their leader
  • Fourteen per cent said they were planning to leave the sector in the next two
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) said they did not feel appreciated by their  More than one in five (21%) felt their skills and experience were not valued by the community.
  • More than 40% would strongly recommend working for their employer and were the most likely to recommend a career in their industry
  • Were among the proudest to work in the sector
  • Unhappiness with the organisation for which they work, wanting to develop new skills and a lack of career opportunities were the top three reasons to leave employers
  • Top reasons to stay with their employers were finding the job rewarding, liking the company for which they worked and the flexibility of 

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