Workforce development: An important paradigm shift for the alcohol and other drugs sector

March 2017
Roche, A., & Nicholas, R. (2016). Workforce development: An important paradigm shift for the alcohol and other drugs sector. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 1-12. Advanced online publication, doi:10.1080/09687637.2016.1262823.

Interest in AOD workforce development stems from a range of imperatives, including the need for enhanced quality of care and evidence-based, effective and efficient services, an emphasis on outcomes-based funding and a focus on worker well-being. In recognition of NCETA’s international contributions to informing workforce development policy and practice, Professor Betsy Thom, Middlesex University invited the Centre to contribute an article to a special edition of Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy focusing on workforce development in the AOD sector.

The paper looks at the evolution of a more sophisticated understanding and adoption of a systems approach to workforce development and highlights three key phases in that evolution:

  1. Individual worker and bottom-up approach: focusing on the provision of resources and education and training programs and the assumption that workers would transfer their training content to routine work practice. Also known as the ‘train and hope’ approach. The key limitations of this approach are that while single-exposure and simple provision of information sessions may be effective tools for information dissemination, they are limited in producing consistent or sustained worker behaviour change.
  2. Internal systems approach: evolved from a recognition of the limitations associated with #1 and represented a major paradigm shift. This approach targets organisational systems, structural and individual factors and focuses on addressing: impediments to worker recruitment and retention; and workplace support and professional and career development (e.g., clinical supervision, teamwork, leadership, mentoring and education and training). A crucial component of this approach is the implementation of measures to enhance worker well-being (e.g., addressing stress, burnout and vicarious trauma).
  3. Integrated human services systems approach: builds on #2 and focuses on the need to address AOD issues in the context of broader physical, social and environmental issues. This broad and comprehensive approach targets individual, organisational structural factors including workers’ and organisations’ readiness and capacity to change. It also includes identifying the service standards needed to provide the best quality responses to AOD issues.

Internationally, there are few national AOD workforce development strategies to guide AOD workforce development initiatives. In this regard, Australia is a world leader with its National AOD Workforce Development Strategy, which was developed by NCETA. The Strategy provides a national focus and mechanism to undertake a systems approach to AOD workforce development implementation and outcomes. It also aims to create a sustainable AOD workforce capable of meeting future challenges, innovation and reform.

Conclusions and Implications

Adopting a systems approach to AOD workforce development is essential for helping workers, services and sectors cope with existing and future workforce demands and challenges.

Australia’s National AOD Workforce Development Strategy provides a blueprint for all Australian jurisdictions and other countries to follow in developing a coordinated and comprehensive approach to workforce development.