Careers at the coal-face? Community services in South Australia: workforce development

Communities Social issues Community sector Social services Labour force participation Australia South Australia

This project was designed to profile the community services workforce in South Australia and to provide a detailed analysis of critical issues currently affecting the workforce in non-government community services agencies.

Findings from the literature and the key informant consultations were consistent in highlighting that the community services sector is one of the fastest growing in Australia, and in South Australia – and bearing the greatest burden of change. ABS data reveals that in the late 1990s the community services sector overall grew by some 15%, with the number of government organisations in the sector remaining almost static (1.5% increase) while the not for profit (10%) and especially the for profit organisations (32%) have grown very strongly. The non-government sector expanded through contracting-out during the 1980s and 1990s and this is expected to continue, notwithstanding some recent reversal of that process in DFC, as well as in areas such as TAFE. During the period this forced growth in the sector took place, there has been insufficient attention paid to capacity building of the sector, and questions about resourcing and sustainability of workforce development have been left unanswered. That constitutes a critical gap in knowledge since labour costs constitute over 70% of expenditure in the sector.

At the heart of this project was an industry wide survey designed to provide a snapshot of the workforce across all service types in the community services sector in SA, and to identify recruitment and retention issues for the sector. Rather than sampling from the agencies in the sector, a strength of this survey is that it has covered the sector fully by canvassing all (in scope) agencies, some 1000 organisations, followed by more intensive follow-up of key areas through case studies and interviews. The industry research framework was designed to ensure collection control (consistency of approach across the sector, ensuring representation from all parts of the industry, handling follow-up and non response). The framework involved developing a database with details of each agency we needed to consult. Following consultations the results were entered into the framework for subsequent analysis.

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