What role will solo operators play in disability support
What place does self-employment hold in the future development of disability services and the expansion of the NDIS?
This article will explore the trends of self-employment and casualisation that is growing in the disability services sector. It is critical to look at the perspectives of the key stakeholders and the issues that self-employment present to the participant, the care worker and to providers. I argue that as the NDIS expands and demand for services grow, self-employment will play a crucial role to ‘fill the gap’ between actual and expected delivery.
What is self-employment?
Firstly, I want to be very clear on exactly who I am talking about when I say self-employed. Around Australia there are millions of people in almost every sector who run their own business, in 2016 over 60% of actively trading businesses in Australia had no employees (ABS8165.0). They work tirelessly to make their dream a reality with passion, vigour and determination. Running a business on your own is not the easy option, far from it, but they do it because they want to build something for themselves, to be their own boss, to have choice, to create value and assets of their own. Self-employment means to step out on your own in business and take control of the opportunities in your life.
Nowadays, I regularly read confusing articles about the ‘gig’ economy and the vulnerability of self-employed workers. The ‘gig’ economy is talking about online platforms that introduce workers with customers, such as Uber. Although workers are (rightly or wrongly) identified as self-employed on these platforms, they do not represent self-employment more broadly. A gig worker may be self-employed but they do not define self-employment.
So, what are the broader issues?
- A person-centred approach requires choice, control and flexibility for participants.
- The existing workforce is ageing and there is a need to attract young workers.
- The range of services that will be required is extremely broad.
- Positions are becoming highly specialised and turnover rates are high.
- Ther’re significant costs for providers to recruit and retain staff.
- Care services need to be provided by motivated, skilled and personable supports.
- Safety and security is paramount for everybody involved in the service provision.
How can self-employment help ‘fill the gap’?
I want to emphasize that I talking about filling gaps in service provision as opposed to suggesting that every worker in the industry becomes self-employed. Employees play an equally pivotal role in the provision and success of the scheme which I do not believe is going to change any time soon. There will always be the need for a range of services that are best provided by employees within organisations across the country.
However, as the scheme matures individuals are going to be looking for more and more individualised support. Every individual participating in the NDIS scheme has different goals, values and support needs. The purpose of this new scheme is to provide these individuals with choice and control over the ways in which they receive support. If real choice is to be offered, then the range of services required under the NDIS is limited only by the goals, values and support needs of the participants. When a participant’s goal doesn’t fit the mould, organisations can look to self-employed individuals outside their business who already have the necessary skills and qualifications to provide those services and fill the gap.
Whether the self-employed individuals capable of providing these services are engaged by the service provider or directly by the participant is up to them. This will largely be dictated by market factors such as access, availability, reach and capabilities for the participants and also for the providers.
There is a global trend towards outsourcing, where a business can find a highly specialised service provider to independently complete a predefined task. This process results in overall efficiencies for all and the best result for the client. It can allow for service providers to connect participants to the right people to help them achieve their goals. The NDS report into Australian Disability Workforce highlights that in the allied health space fixed term engagements is already the most common type of engagement and it is only growing.
- Producing a result
Self-employed individuals get paid to produce a result, this immediately gives them the mindset and the motivation to actually deliver and not just turn-up. The participants plan will set the objectives required and it is the care workers job to meet that criteria. This ensures that quality is maintained and not sacrificed for quantity.
- Geographic isolation
While some of the major metropolitan areas will have enough service providers and workforce to cover demands, many smaller towns will not have that luxury. The Productivity Commission’s issue paper on NDIS costs states that “workforce readiness for the full NDIS will be patchy, and that some regions may struggle to be ready even over the longer term”. In any given area, it is impractical for any single organisation or even groups of organisations to be in a position to provide the range of services that suit every individual participant. By leveraging the skills of existing individuals and businesses in the area a network of wide ranging services can be provided.
- Skill creation and specialisation
Market conditions will create the demand for a range of specialist skills in certain areas. Entrepreneurial individuals will be motivated to upskill themselves in order to provide the services that participants require.
When you think of an individual running their own business there are a number of words that come to mind: hard-working, motivated, enthusiastic, determined, are these not the type workers that participants and the scheme generally would benefit from? The flexibility that comes from a self-employed workforce will add another layer of support for participants that cannot be serviced through traditional models.
At the end of the day, the NDIS is going to require innovation at every step of the journey. The fundamental premise of the scheme and new innovations should be focused on providing choice and a person-centred approach. The more independent, agile and passionate business owners that can be attracted to the scheme the more innovation we will see.
Safety and security for participants and care workers cannot be jeopardised and all service providers and care workers will need to be regulated. The regulation itself will need to focus not on added red-tape but promoting innovative service provision through safe and secure methods.
Self-employment forms the basis of the Australian economy and they are influential in its ongoing success. Today, the barriers for entry to start your own business are virtually non-existent. These factors are driving a global trend towards self-employment as the workforce revaluates its priorities.
In the disability services industry, the benefits of a strong and healthy presence of independent business owners will be of great value to the industry as a whole.