Updating the National Workforce Development Strategy – some (very) early insights and reflections

September 2021

NCETA has been commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Health to update the National Workforce Development Strategy. Stakeholder consultation is crucial to this process, to ensure an updated Strategy that connects with priority issues for the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) field. The Strategy will also address the needs of workers in other sectors who also respond to AOD issues including those in health, welfare, education and law enforcement.

Whilst it is very early days in the consultation process, the NCETA team have already received valuable input and guidance from key stakeholders on our Project Advisory Committee and from the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ANACAD). The team have also conducted a comprehensive review of the peer-reviewed and ‘grey’ literatures to identify emerging issues and priorities.

Work in the AOD field is well known for being complex, challenging and highly rewarding. Therefore, it is not surprising that at this early stage of the project, a wide range of issues have been highlighted to the team, including new and emerging areas of concern and ongoing issues that have yet to be resolved.

These issues and concerns will be highlighted in an upcoming Discussion Paper that will be disseminated in late September/early October to seek stakeholder input into the updated Strategy. NCETA will be inviting submission via an online portal and will also be connecting directly with a range of key stakeholders.

In the meantime, this opinion piece offers the NCETA team an opportunity to give you a sneak peek of some of the issues that will be included in the Discussion Paper, and we look forward to receiving your input into the process of updating and renewing the Strategy.

Some of the priority issues that have emerged at this early stage include:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on service delivery and worker wellbeing
  • Addressing the workforce development needs of the growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce
  • Growth of the peer workforce, including voluntary and paid workers
  • Addressing the workforce development needs of the rural, regional, and remote workforce
  • Ongoing challenges of workforce recruitment and retention, including issues such as career development opportunities and renumeration
  • Meeting the unique needs of distinct client groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, older and younger people
  • Ongoing challenges of education, training, and professional development in both the specialist AOD workforce and for worker in other sectors who address AOD issues in their work (e.g., health, human services, law enforcement)
  • The need for more specialised skill sets to address complex presentations, new and emerging approaches to treatment and prevention, and changing service delivery models
  • Substantial growth in the proportion of service delivery provided by the NGO sector.

This list represents some highlights from the upcoming Discussion Paper. Even as a select and preliminary overview, this list of concerns and priorities for the AOD field is indicative of the depth and breadth of the challenges for the AOD sector. An acknowledgment here is worthwhile, to recognise that our frontline workers deal with many of these challenges (and more) daily. To also acknowledge that AOD workers, like others in health and human service work, are well known for their dedication, commitment, and resilience within this demanding work.

The input and contribution of people like yourself, and other stakeholders in the AOD and related fields, is crucial to ensure this updated Strategy provides clear focus and priority to supporting the capacity and effectiveness of the AOD workforce.

The NCETA team looks forward to hearing from you during the consultation process. Look out for our social media and other alerts in late September/early October for the dissemination of the Discussion Paper and opening of the online portal for your submissions. We will also be connecting directly with key stakeholders as part of the consultation.

Project enquires: Dr Natalie Skinner, Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA, Flinders University)