This project aimed to increase recruitment and retention among people under-represented in the support and social care workforce, namely men and young people from multicultural backgrounds.
The Ethnic Community Services Co-operative (ECSC) has been offering multicultural services through a pool of bi-cultural, bi-lingual workers for over 35 years. The Cooperative’s core work was in children’s services but this has broadened recently to include disability and aged care. Advocacy and service navigation, a small respite service and childcare for children with developmental disability are currently offered.
The NDIS rollout in inner and south-west Sydney means that many people with disability from non-English speaking backgrounds are able to receive support for the first time. It creates a huge opportunity to diversify the sector culturally and engage the energy of young people from CALD backgrounds, particularly males, whose contribution would benefit people with disabilities and their families, and the sector as a whole. For the ECSC, the project will identify new sources of new workers and test effective ways to engage them.
The solution offered by this project was for specialist multicultural services like ECSC to work with disability providers to develop a new, young CALD workforce who can then be redeployed strategically across the sector. Phase One involved consulting with both people with disability and young people from CALD communities in order to understand the perspective of each. Students, young unemployed people and recently arrived immigrants were the initial targets for the project’s proactive attraction strategy. People with disability and their carers, in contact with the ECSC for advocacy, were the source of expertise for workforce design. A training program, accompanied by work experience, was developed on the basis of consultation, at the end of which the new recruits entered the workforce employed either by the ECSC or deployed through its partners.
The aim was to support disability sector growth in a way that reflects the diversity of people’s needs and preferences in multicultural Australia. As well as changing the cultural, religious, linguistic and gender make-up of the disability workforce, the project aspired to change ethnic community attitudes about the value of jobs in the sector through community outreach.
Some 25 young people were to be engaged, trained and recruited into disability employment, with a range of indicators tracked. The project aimed to produce a range of guidance and coaching materials that other services can use.
Success of this project was intended to allow the ECSC to maintain a pool of young bilingual and bicultural support workers who will be engaged by people with disability and providers. The project aimed also to yield information about what CALD people with disability and their family and carers seek, including for which aspects of support they want to engage co-language speakers and the vital role that male and bicultural support workers play. Finally, it was anticipated workers engaged as a result of the project would play an important ambassadorial role in their communities using social media and radio to highlight the value of their roles and encourage others to join the sector.
It was expected that participants' cultural backgrounds might mirror the demographics of the areas and clients served. While this was sometimes the case, many service users chose MSC support workers from a different cultural background to their own yet still identified them as ‘culturally appropriate’ to their own cultural background. That is, while support workers’ cultural backgrounds frequently differed from the service users and their family, it was felt that having non-Anglo-Saxon ancestry still gave them the 'cultural capital' to understand the client and their family's values, beliefs and way of life and more importantly service individual needs in this context.
While culture and language were of importance to most service users, experience and attitude were most important in terms of selection criteria for support workers.
This project took a model used in childcare and extended it to disability. Assessing the financial viability of the model, and the scale to make it sustainable in the NDIS environment was the key element of the project.
ECSC’s experience has been that bilingual and bicultural workers are essential to making new programs like the NDIS work effectively. This is because cultural understanding beyond language is key to ensuring participation and equity of access to services. People with disability and family members use such workers for advice, information and advocacy even where they do not require a bilingual worker on a day to day basis. The limited funds available for interpreters under the NDIS make bilingual workers even more important.
The great success of the project has led ECSC to continue it. Project staff also feel the approach is suitable to be replicated by other service providers. In particular the following features could be adapted by others:
The types of service providers that would most likely benefit from the model was considered to be organisations which work with diverse stakeholders, are values-driven and committed to leadership and real empowerment of people with disability.
The project demonstrated a high degree of interest and openness to disability work among young people from non-English speaking backgrounds, especially college and university students. Over 70 applications were received for the role of support worker. Of these, 60 were interviewed and vetted with the help of a service user and 25 were recruited. A 50 per cent male target was exceeded with 14 male participants out of 25. Some 13 languages were represented. Two workers opted out after recruitment because of unforeseen circumstances making it hard to complete the necessary training. Subsequent attrition rates during the project were zero: indeed, the workers' enthusiasm and passion for the work grew.
It was expected overseas students would be a key group taking part. However, most of the applicants who wanted to attend an information session were Australian citizens or residents. The human rights principles underpinning disability work resonated strongly with these young people, many of whom had overseas or family experience that they could bring to the sector. The project shows that new recruitment methods yield new audiences, and the working time alignment between students and people with disability offers potential for this cohort to be a strong workforce pool for the sector.
Lessons were learned about a suitable model for coaching the new recruits. Rather than a formal coaching program, the tech-savvy workers favoured a more flexible peer-to-peer mentoring format using a social media platform that they implemented. Program participants also developed video diaries during their work placements and recorded concerns and mindset before their placement as well as the overall feelings and record of how the day went and successes and challenges that arose. The project officer used these to understand where each participant's professional development needs, confidence and self-management and she provided feedback and created opportunities to address common issues or challenges, such as the addition of resilience training and a workshop on managing challenging behaviours. People with disability associated with ECSC became the coaches and mentors and tutored the support workers on how to improve their performance. This provided an opportunity to break down barriers and allow for more meaningful interaction than would have been possible on the job or during work placements.
Working with a breadth of people and organisations to deliver the project was effective. See Project connections.
Community outreach was tried through several means. The original concept of community roundtables was abandoned given the timing and sequencing of the project. It became apparent that the ambassadorial role of the young recruits had significant potential. After connecting with SBS, the project received an overwhelmingly response, with requests from the Arabic, Cantonese, Dari, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Urdu Content Managers asking for MSC participants to talk about disability issues in community languages. Radio proved an excellent channel for discussing disability, since listeners could contact the program anonymously, from the privacy of their kitchen, and speak openly without the possibility of public shame. Inclusive community events were another important avenue which the young workers enjoyed contributing to.
The project concluded that NDIS costing creates a risk to ESCS's ability to sustain the Multicultural Support Worker pool after project funding ends. ECSC noted: 'Small margins under the NDIS make it hugely challenging to cover the staff costs associated with maintaining a high-quality workforce'.
They have set targets for NDIS participant acquisition, to sustain roles integral to the model - program manager, intake officer, field manager – and to nurture high-level of staff and ongoing recruitment.
'These are ambitious targets that have required an investment of our organisation's monetary reserve funding that would be an obstacle for other organisations smaller to make such an investment and financial commitment. Only time will tell if we are successful'.
Another risk is losing staff to other organisations that recognise the extensive, culturally appropriate training and skills our workers bring to the industry. ECSC notes 'Our workers have been approached by many other businesses in the sector including competitors such as HireUp and Better Caring. We run the risk of losing them to more frequent requests for work and competitive wages and incentives'.