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Invest in the jobs of the future

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Our community services industry is vibrant and mature, with a proud history of supporting people facing poverty and disadvantage. It is also a major contributor to the Victorian economy, and is projected to be one of the fastest-growing jobs generators.

Community services industry growth delivers a double dividend. It creates new jobs and economic growth in its own right and, by reducing social and economic disadvantage, allows more people to participate in the social and economic life of the community. Community services is already an $11 billion industry in Victoria, employing about 150,000 people.

Jobs growth is being fuelled by significant reforms and investments in family violence prevention, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Victoria’s Roadmap for reform: strong families, safe children package. Strong demand for community services such as aged care and child care is being driven by social and economic change.

Victoria can seize this opportunity to deliver economic benefits and create secure, well-paid jobs for the future. The Victorian Government can do this by playing a strong stewardship role in developing the community services industry to produce sustained economic growth and stable, skilled employment.

Develop the community services industry

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Begin allocating funding to implement the proposals developed by the 10-Year Community Services Industry Plan.

 

To create sustainable, secure community sector jobs of the future, the Victorian Government will need to invest in industry development. Despite being one of the largest job creators in Victoria, the community services industry receives little industry development and training support compared with industries with much smaller job-creation roles, such as mining, manufacturing and agriculture.

VCOSS and the Department of Health and Human Services are currently developing a future-focussed 10-Year Community Services Industry Plan to guide industry development over the coming decade. It seeks to navigate the challenges of industry growth and change, while building professional capabilities and strong relationships between the Victorian Government and community services.

The Community Services Industry Plan will be sector-owned and led, in partnership with the Victorian Government. It will emphasise flexible, person-centred and place-based services, embedding data, evidence, outcomes and new technologies, while adopting best practice regulation and governance.

The plan will set out the industry’s aspirations and develop strategies for sustainable growth and a skilled workforce. But the plan can only come to life when followed by strong investment to deliver on its promise. The Victorian Government should use this Budget to begin delivering investment to seize the community services growth opportunity.

 

Waive fees for high-growth community services qualifications

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Waive fees for community services VET qualifications in high employment growth occupations for all Victorians facing barriers to employment or looking to retrain.

 

Given the high demand for community service workers, the relatively low pay of entry-level social sector jobs, and the potential of the sector to grow the Victorian economy, there is a strong case for waiving fees for community services training programs offered by selected high quality training providers.

Rapid expansion of the community service industry is creating strong demand for new ‘job-ready’ workers. To build a quality workforce during a period of high worker demand, a structured pipeline of workers receiving high quality training in relevant qualifications is required.

Victoria needs better methods of attracting people to the industry to meet this workforce challenge. This requires improved pre-job education and training, including greater support for students to maintain their enrolment, enhanced professional development, and better on-the-job-training. Higher pay and career progression opportunities also help retain workers.

An immediate step is to make approved entry-level community services vocational education and training (VET) qualifications free for Victorians facing barriers to employment or currently looking to retrain. This fee waiver would apply irrespective of a person’s existing qualifications.

Future Social Service Institute Scholarship Program

Early findings from a Future Social Service Institute (FSSI) evaluation of its scholarship program for the Certificate III in Individual Support indicate that under-represented groups, such as disengaged young people and single parents, are more likely to train for a career in social service work when fees are waived.

FSSI has been trialing a ‘facilitated career structure’ model, which gives prospective students facing disadvantage a scholarship for their first step into social services, and additional language, literacy and numeracy support. Once in the program, they are guaranteed a place in the RMIT Diploma of Nursing if prerequisites of language, literacy and numeracy are met.

A concurrent hardship fund has been established to remove small but significant barriers to completion – such as enough Myki travel credit and assistance with short-term accommodation – keeping young people in the program who might otherwise drop out.

After the ‘first step’ is facilitated, course entrants have a high likelihood of remaining employed while they pursue further career pathways in the field, such as in nursing or allied health.

 

Fund community services to cover mandated wage rises

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Adopt a community sector funding formula that accounts for changes to the national minimum wage and inflation.

 

Victorian community services funding is not keeping up with wage increases, creating a shortfall across the sector. The Victorian Government should adopt a funding formula that matches funding increases with minimum wage decisions and inflation, so the quality and amount of services are not eroded.

Community services employers mostly pay wages based on the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award. Wages rise according to the annual minimum wage decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and the Equal Remuneration Order (ERO). While the ERO wage increases have been funded by the Victorian Government, the FWC’s minimum wage decisions have not. The most recent between minimum wage decision raised wages by 3.3 per cent, but community services workers only received indexation of two per cent, as they have for the past six years.

Other wage cost increases include WorkCover premiums and the unfunded increases in the Superannuation Guarantee Levy. Non-wage operating costs, such as administration and compliance costs, have also risen, estimated to be in line with official inflation (recently between 1.1 and 3.2 per cent).

Funding for community sector organisations must be increased and applied using a flexible and responsive formula, to maintain the quality and availability of services for people experiencing disadvantage.

Build community services infrastructure in growth areas

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Expand the Growing Suburbs Fund to build new community services facilities in areas of high population growth.

 

Rapid population growth on the urban fringe of Melbourne and in regional cities requires investment in facilities so community services can assist these communities. The Victorian Government can expand the Growing Suburbs Fund so construction of new facilities can better keep pace with demand.

Victoria’s population is growing rapidly, and is now the fastest growing Australian state or territory. Much of this growth is focussed on the edges of Melbourne and regional cities. At the same time, there are large increases in housing costs near the centres of cities, pushing low-income households towards the fringes in search of affordable housing. This is causing spikes in demand for many community services, including early childhood education, community health services, family violence services, drug and alcohol treatment, and employment services.

Many community organisations deliver services from legacy infrastructure, and are not funded to build new facilities or deliver from high-cost commercial premises. This means that community organisations cannot move to or develop new services in growth areas, leaving many communities experiencing significant distress without support.

In the 2017-18 Budget, the Victorian Government funded the Growing Suburbs Fund with $25 million per year for two years. This is half the size of the previous $50 million Interface Growth Fund, despite accelerating population growth. By expanding the size of the Growing Suburbs Fund, the Victorian Government can assist community service organisations to provide services where they are most needed.

Ensure community hubs have dedicated coordinators

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Ensure dedicated coordinators are embedded in integrated education, health and family services ‘community hubs’.

 

The Victorian Government can help integrate education, health and family services by ensuring there are dedicated coordinators to facilitate service collaboration, particularly in areas of high socioeconomic disadvantage.

Integrated community hubs commonly involve elements of co-location and virtual integration. For example, a hub might host several services, such as maternal and child health, early childhood education, playgroups and parenting skills programs. Services such as housing, legal, family violence and mental health services might also be offered. The model reduces stigma by allowing families to more discreetly access legal, financial and family violence services, which can sometimes cause embarrassment, and reduces the time and money it costs to attend multiple appointments.

For the benefits of integration to emerge, integrated service centres require dedicated coordinators tasked with facilitating service collaboration, community development and outreach programs targeting marginalised individuals and families.

Integrated services also provide more tailored ‘wrap-around’ support, aiding social engagement, individual wellbeing and community development. Particular benefits for children include greater attendance at school, better results and a stronger connection to the school community.

Jindi Family and Community Centre

The Jindi Centre is an integrated family and community hub in Melbourne’s outer north. It provides universal services including maternal and child health, playgroups and early childhood education and care, offering additional entry to specialised services and interventions, such as financial programs and family support. An interdisciplinary team connects children and families with appropriate support. The centre takes a two-generation approach, simultaneously addressing the needs of parents and children.

Early results are promising. Parents are being assisted into education, training and employment, and children are successfully transitioning from infant and toddler activities to kinder and then school. About 200 families attend playgroup activities, and about 100 local residents are participating in community-building activities in response to local priorities.

 

Deliver ‘backbone’ funding for local, community-led employment partnerships

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Fund the ‘backbone’ of community partnerships that reduce disadvantage and develop employment pathways for local jobseekers.

 

Poverty and disadvantage are geographically concentrated – just 11 Victorian postcodes (1.6 per cent) account for 13.7 per cent of our most disadvantaged communities.

People may face multiple barriers to employment, which are often highly complex and individualised. Local knowledge and networks can identify opportunities, barriers and links not visible to more distant or ‘siloed’ agencies. Local leaders can marshal and align existing resources across government, business, philanthropic and non-government sectors, reducing service fragmentation. Community co-design can tailor responses to local needs and conditions.

The Victorian Government can help people facing disadvantage gain meaningful employment by providing ‘backbone’ funding for local collaborative partnerships. With dedicated funding, community organisations would be well-placed to facilitate place-based approaches. They can foster relationships between a diverse range of people, organisations, businesses and services. Such collaboration can deliver cooperatively-designed initiatives, with agreed outcomes and evaluation measures.

There are many potential models that could form the basis for local employment collaborations, with sufficient agility to allow communities to develop their own iterations based on local expertise. Businesses, governments, community organisations and educators can provide employment pathways by working directly with individuals and small groups. These partnerships could bring together the myriad of local programs that work with disadvantaged jobseekers and disengaged young people and, alongside local employers and training providers, deliver strong pathways into jobs.

Effective place-based approaches bring together community members, empowering people to develop and drive their own innovative community solutions and integrate them successfully over the long term. They help build stronger communities that are better equipped to help people find jobs and overcome entrenched poverty and disadvantage.

Directly hire more people facing disadvantage

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Set public sector employment quotas for Aboriginal Victorians and people with disability.

 

Unemployment is both a symptom and a driver of disadvantage. By directly hiring people from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as Aboriginal Victorians and people with disability, the Victorian Government can change the trajectory of these cohorts and reduce the entrenched disadvantage they face. There are broader groups of people experiencing disadvantage who can also be assisted by public sector employment, and this should be encouraged, but it is useful that the Victorian Public Service Commission already monitors the proportion of Aboriginal people and people with disability in public sector employment.

The rate of unemployment among Aboriginal Victorians remains almost three times higher than the state unemployment rate. As of May 2016, about 0.9 per cent of the Victorian public sector workforce identified as Aboriginal, slightly higher than the Victorian population of 0.7 per cent. However, these employees commonly held lower-paying positions.

VCOSS welcomes the Victorian Government’s ambition to have Aboriginal people make up two per cent of the Victorian public sector workforce by 2022. However, we want to ensure actions implemented under the Aboriginal employment strategy not only increase the proportion of Aboriginal employees but support and encourage Aboriginal people into higher-level roles.

A similar approach could help create employment opportunities for people with disability. Just over half of all working age people with disability are working, compared with 83 per cent of people without a disability.

The introduction of a public sector quota, proportionate to the number of people with disability in the community, backed by a robust disability employment strategy, would help address this underrepresentation.

 

Further strategies

 

Targeted responses to specific workforce challenges

The Victorian community sector faces unprecedented demand for family violence services. The sector must prepare for the workforce challenges this presents. Not only will there be a need for more qualified family violence prevention and response workers, we must upskill and provide effective supervision and support to retain workers already in the system.

To respond effectively to families with complex needs, the workforce will need diverse skills, including early parenting, therapeutic care and Aboriginal cultural competence. Workers need to be comfortable using new technology as part of their everyday practice.

Trained youth workers have a place responding to the diverse needs of young people. The Victorian Government can transform the community into the future by ensuring young people have the supports they need.

To ensure that the workforce is appropriately skilled and trained, the Victorian Government needs to offer alternative education pathways for marginalised women, and education programs in rural and regional Victoria. Direct support workers and their supervisors also need to understand trauma and therapeutic approaches to working with trauma.

As well as upskilling the specialist family violence workforce, workers across the community sector need to recognise and respond to family violence. This includes services working with culturally and linguistically-diverse communities and interpreter services.

 

Register and accredit disability workers

People with disability have the right to be safe and receive high quality services. Introducing a robust registration and accreditation scheme can help lift service quality across the sector, improve safety for people with disability and raise the status of disability caring work to improve pay and grow the workforce.

Registering disability workers and managers will provide a basic level of screening to prevent people who have committed violence, abuse or neglect from continuing to provide disability services. This level of scrutiny is particularly crucial at a time when the disability workforce is growing rapidly, combined with a large injection of government funding and a shift to a market-based approach. However, to avoid constraining choice, the scheme should enable self-managing participants to ‘opt-out’ of being required to engage registered and accredited workers for services not defined as ‘high risk’.

Accrediting qualifications and requiring all disability support workers to hold minimum qualifications will provide assurance to people with disability, their families and carers, and employers that disability workers have the requisite competence and skills. The accreditation process provides an opportunity to review course content and delivery and to set, monitor and enforce high standards, so graduates complete courses with the skills needed to perform effectively on the job.

A staged transition must be undertaken to ensure the workforce has time to adjust to the changes. The Victorian Government has a responsibility to resource and assist the sector to successfully transition to the scheme. This includes providing free training and access to Recognition of Prior Learning for existing disability workers; ensuring the registration process is not onerous or costly for workers; and increasing wages to reflect qualifications. Ideally, registration and accreditation of workers would be expanded nationally, but in the meantime, government must ensure it is designed and implemented to work effectively with the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework.

 

Cut red tape

Red tape has a stifling effect on the Victorian community sector. It takes time and money to comply with administrative requirements, and can restrict the ability of organisations to innovate.

One way for the Victorian Government to easily reduce the burden is by brokering a deal with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to access information the ACNC already collects from registered charities. This would reduce the number of reports charities submit to different government agencies, in line with the ACNC’s ‘report once, use often’ framework.

Another way is streamlining quality standards and auditing. Funded community service organisations must often comply with multiple overlapping standards, such as the Human Services Standards, the Child Safe Standards and the Home Care Common Standards, in addition to ACNC governance standards. The same elements are duplicated in different standards, such as governance and risk management. Relevant quality assurance agencies should work together to eliminate duplication and ease the regulatory burden on community service organisations.

The Victorian Government should also consider completely repealing the Fundraising Act 1988, which imposes unnecessary regulatory burdens on not-for-profit community organisations. Victorian community sector charities raise nearly $1 billion per year through donations and bequests. The Fundraising Act 1988 (and similar legislation in other states) complicates how community sector organisations can raise money, meaning charities currently spend more than $15 million per year on unnecessary reporting and compliance requirements nationally.

VCOSS believes fundraising can be better regulated by other laws, including the Australian Consumer Law (a proportionate, risk-based model), which Consumer Affairs Victoria has previously used to successfully prosecute a charity for misleading conduct.

 

Improve tendering and contracting

Working with vulnerable people requires strong relationships developed over the long term. The recent practice of three or four-year contracts for services, or even less, combined with poor recommissioning processes, has made it difficult to develop and sustain these connections. Without guarantees of ongoing employment, staff look for new jobs six to 12 months before the end of their contract. High staff turnover threatens service user engagement; some drop out of treatment or break therapeutic relationships, which can take many years to rebuild, delaying healing.

In its Inquiry into Human Services draft report, the Productivity Commission recommended a standard contract of seven years. VCOSS supports this call.

The Productivity Commission’s draft report also argued that government selection processes tend to focus on service delivery costs and the quality of tender applications, rather than organisations’ ability to actually deliver outcomes for people. The Victorian Government should redesign selection criteria to give more weight to the ability of service providers to achieve actual results.

Short deadlines for the submission of tender documents reduce the ability of community service organisations to prepare considered responses or collaborate on joint applications. Longer submission periods would result in better-prepared tender documents and produce better services and outcomes.

 

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