Capacity and Sector Development

What is the current profile of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workforce?

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander alcohol and other drug (AOD) workforce comprises workers who respond to AOD issues and provide services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities in Australia. This workforce includes, but is not limited to, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander: Health Workers, Mental Health Workers, and Liaison Officers, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, nurses, drug and alcohol clinicians, social workers, community health workers, and mobile patrol staff ref=34733.

In Australia, the role designation of Aboriginal AOD worker usually refers to individuals of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity who work in the AOD field in various roles with an emphasis on improving quality and accessibility of care ref=23662.

To date, no nationally coordinated profiling exercise has been undertaken to map the size and nature of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workforce.

The size of the workforce involved in addressing AOD problems among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is difficult to ascertain, but it is clear that such workers are usually employed in comparatively low status, lower paid positions such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers or community workers ref=32850.

What are the issues and challenges facing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workforce?

A broad range of issues can impact on the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous AOD workers. These include high levels of stress due to stigmatisation, complex client presentations, difficult working conditions and limited training and support ref=34733. Such issues are likely to be exacerbated for Indigenous workers as they attempt to support community members dealing with profound and complex AOD problems.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers find aspects of their jobs extremely rewarding including helping their people, enhancing community services and improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ health outcomes and life expectancies. Nevertheless, against a background of disadvantage and complex AOD use,  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers face unique stressors including:

    • heavy work demands and a lack of clearly defined roles and boundaries reflecting high community need and a shortfall of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers
    • dual forms of stigmatisation stemming from attitudes to AOD work and racism
    • difficulties translating mainstream work practices to meet the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients
    • challenges of isolation when working in remote areas
    • dealing with clients with complex comorbidities and health and social issues
    • lack of cultural understanding and support from non-Indigenous health workers  ref=23662.

These challenges mean that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers have distinct workforce development needs, and workforce development strategies are required that can be implemented in a culturally safe manner. This includes measures such as:

  • recognising and responding to the importance of gender balance among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers
  • ensuring that new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers participate in culturally appropriate orientation and induction programs
  • ensuring access to culturally secure AOD training and working environments which recognise the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of working 1
  • enhancing access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mentors and clinical supervisors.

What can be done to enhance the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers?

From a workforce development perspective, there are a number of measures that could enhance the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers. These include:

  • establishing a national professional body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers
  • establishing a national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-controlled AOD services
  • implementing measures to promote AOD work as a career of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates of high school, vocational education and training and tertiary education
  • ensuring that there is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in service planning (both professionals and consumers)
  • ensuring that there is parity of remuneration and conditions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers and non-Indigenous Workers
  • ensuring that remuneration recognises both formal and informal qualifications and incorporates specialist loadings related to specialist skills or difficult work environments (e.g. working in remote and isolated areas)
  • ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workers, particularly in remote regions, have the infrastructure (housing, office space, computers, transport, phones etc.) they require to adequately fulfil their roles
  • redressing literacy problems among current and potential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers by offering intensive remedial education programs
  • offering greater job security, career and development opportunities and financial incentives (including scholarships) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers to encourage them to increase their skill levels
  • enhancing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals undergoing professional training as doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and addiction medicine doctors
  • enhancing access to appropriate vocational education and training and higher education programs supported by block release times and backfilling for education and training purposes.

NCETA workforce development resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers

NCETA has produced a number of resources aimed at enhancing capacity and improving worker wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers. You can access these resources using the links provided below:

Feeling deadly/working deadly resource kit

NCETA’s Feeling deadly/working deadly resource kit is aimed at reducing stress and burnout and enhancing wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers. It forms part of NCETA’s program of work on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander worker wellbeing. The kit was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

This kit is intended for use by Indigenous AOD Workers, their managers and supervisors. Mainstream AOD workers and managers may also find the kit useful.

Online directory of worker resources

NCETA has also produced an online directory of resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers. The directory aims to provide easy and user-friendly access to worker wellbeing resources throughout Australia. The online directory forms part of NCETA’s Feeling Deadly/Working resource kit which was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

The directory is intended for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers and their managers and supervisors. Mainstream AOD workers, managers and supervisors, and services with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients may also find the directory useful. The information in the directory is primarily focused on supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers, rather than clients.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander worker wellbeing

NCETA has produced a series of publications examining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Worker wellbeing issues including workers’ experiences and perspectives on wellbeing, stress and burnout.

The major aim of NCETA’s program of work on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workforce development is to build the capacity of AOD workers and service providers and to improve Indigenous workers’ wellbeing. Copies of the following Indigenous worker wellbeing publications can be downloaded from the Knowledge Centre website:

Indigenous alcohol and drug workforce challenges: a literature review of issues related to Indigenous AOD workers’ wellbeing, stress and burnout

An examination of more than 400 reports, journal articles and other documents relevant to stress, burnout and wellbeing of workers responding to

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD issues. The report: defines the workforce and the concepts of stress, burnout and wellbeing; outlines the broader context in which responses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD issues occur; and provides an overview the key areas of concern that impact on Indigenous AOD Workers’ stress levels, risk of burnout and wellbeing.

Indigenous AOD workers’ wellbeing stress and burnout: findings from an online survey

This publication reports on the findings of an online survey that examined levels of stress and wellbeing and their contributing factors among a sample of AOD specialist and generic health workers from government, non-government and community-controlled organisations. The results of the survey suggest that in order to effectively improve worker wellbeing and reduce turnover, organisations may need to implement customised strategies that meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous workers.

The health and well-being of Indigenous drug and alcohol workers: results from a national Australian survey

This paper highlights the importance of implementing workforce development strategies that focus on achieving culturally appropriate, equitable and supportive organisational conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers.

Stories of resilience: Indigenous alcohol and other drug workers’ wellbeing, stress and burnout

This report presents the findings from interviews and focus groups conducted with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers with a specific emphasis on Aboriginal AOD Workers’ stories about wellbeing, stress and burnout. The research examined the factors and strategies that support resilience and identifies a range of workforce development, organisational and individual strategies for reducing work-related stress and enhancing worker wellbeing.

Sharing stories: Indigenous alcohol and other drug workers’ well-being, stress and burnout

The paper identifies mutual support networks, training in assertiveness and boundary setting, workloads that consider Indigenous ways of working and adequate remuneration as some of the workforce strategies that could be used to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD worker wellbeing.

What is the current status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD education and training in Australia?

There are a growing number of AOD courses that address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD issues. In 2008 21% of accredited AOD courses in Australia were either specifically designed for

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students or covered Indigenous issues in depth  ref=15583. See Figure 1.

The proportion of accredited courses with Indigenous contentFigure 1: The proportion of accredited courses with Indigenous content. Source: Roche et al. (2008)

There has been an important recent initiative in the development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workforce. This was the acknowledgement of the Certificate IV in Alcohol and other Drugs as the nationally recognised training program for Indigenous people interested in or currently working in the AOD sector. The movement from Certificate III to Certificate IV level as the recognised training program represents an important step forward in the professionalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD Workers.

References

Endnote

1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of working refers to recognising the importance of, and impact on, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of issues such as: Australia’s post-colonial Indigenous history; kinship; commitment to community; grief, loss and sorry business; holistic approaches to health; women’s and men’s business; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of time; respect for Elders; and connection to Country and health  ref=27674.

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