The community services and health industries have experienced a period of growth in recent times. This report focuses on the sub-section, alcohol and other drugs, which has had difficulty recruiting staff. Through a survey of managers of alcohol and other drugs service agencies, the authors examine the potential for vocational education and training (VET) to play a role in developing this workforce. The report uncovers concerns managers have around the training content, delivery and assessment of VET qualifications and finds an overall preference for higher education qualifications. Vocational education and training is found to be a pathway to employment in this sector for entry-level students as well as those with higher education qualifications.
About the research
The Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia has identified attracting and recruiting staff as a problem area for the sector. An obvious strategy is to recruit people from a broad range of backgrounds, and then provide specific industry training. The vocational education and training (VET) sector is well placed to provide this training. The potential of VET to play this role was tested through surveys of managers of alcohol and other drugs service agencies and analysis of student enrolment data.
- The majority of managers preferred to employ workers with higher education qualifications because university graduates are seen to have higher levels of professionalism and better interpersonal skills.
- Nearly one in four managers was dissatisfied with vocational education and training. They suggested that training could be improved by placing greater emphasis on counselling and intervention, co-morbidity issues and clinical work placements.
- The new CHC08 Community Services Training Package, which has replaced the CHC02 Community Services Training Package, may address some of the concerns relating to training content but it may not resolve the managers' concerns about delivery and assessment.
- Most managers supported the notion of a minimum qualification for the alcohol and other drugs sector. They indicated that it should be higher than a certificate IV level.
Managing Director, NCVER
This report examines the role of vocational education and training (VET) in addressing the workforce development needs of the alcohol and other drugs sector of the health and community services industries. With a workforce comprised of diverse occupations and undertaking a wide range of activities in different organisational settings, the alcohol and other drugs sector represents an example of the wider health and community services industries.
The study involved two components and had four main goals. First, a survey of alcohol and other drugs treatment agency managers was conducted to examine:
employers' attitudes towards and levels of satisfaction with vocational education and training
qualifications in alcohol and other drugs work
employers' opinions of vocational education and training qualifications in alcohol and other
drugs work as a minimum qualification for working in the alcohol and other drugs sector.
Second, analyses were undertaken of 2008 data for VET students enrolled in the Certificate IV and the Diploma in Alcohol and Other Drugs Work and higher education undergraduate students enrolled in courses relevant to alcohol and other drugs to:
- identify the demographic profile of these students
- examine pathways between the vocational education and training and higher education sectors.
A total of 186 alcohol and other drugs treatment service managers responded to the survey (58% response rate). Of these, 59% were managers of non-government services. The size of services ranged from 1 to 700 staff (median 15 staff), with the largest number of clinical staff employed by any single service being 210. Treatment agencies offered a variety of services that required workers to have a diverse range of skills.
Most specialist workers (64%) held formal qualifications in alcohol and other drugs work. A larger proportion of workers employed in government treatment agencies (65%) held graduate or postgraduate qualifications compared with workers employed in non-government agencies (40%).
Preferred worker qualifications
In terms of preferred qualifications of staff, the majority of managers (86%) preferred specialist workers to have either higher education qualifications with explicit alcohol and other drugs content, or relevant higher education qualifications with additional accredited or non-accredited alcohol and other drugs training. When seeking to employ workers, the least preferred option of managers was for applicants possessing only VET qualifications in alcohol and other drugs work.
Nearly half of the managers (44%) believed that the alcohol and other drugs skills and competencies held by their current specialist workers were the minimum they expected, while 9.7% believed they were less than expected. The majority of managers (60.4%) believed that most specialist workers they employed required more alcohol and other drugs training.
Minimum alcohol and other drugs qualifications
Most managers (82%) supported a compulsory minimum alcohol and other drugs qualification for specialist workers in the alcohol and other drugs field. While VET qualifications were seen as 'sufficient' for a minimum qualification, just over half of all managers indicated that the qualification level should be higher than certificate IV, with more than one in three supporting a minimum qualification at the undergraduate or postgraduate level.
Managers' views of vocational education and training
A substantial proportion of managers (nearly one in five) were dissatisfied with the VET sector's provision of courses in the area of alcohol and other drugs. Reasons for this dissatisfaction included:
- poor-quality training and assessment
- lack of correspondence between what was learned through training and skills required on the job
- training content being out of date or out of touch with industry developments
- lack of practical experience/work placements.
Managers' dissatisfaction also stemmed from a perceived variability in the quality of VET and limitations in its ability to adequately equip workers with the necessary skills and knowledge to meet the increasingly complex needs of alcohol and other drugs clients.
Managers' dissatisfaction may be due to real or perceived deficiencies in VET provision. Relatively high levels of dissatisfaction may also stem from an unrealistic expectation or misperception of what VET can deliver at the certificate level. Similar areas of dissatisfaction were identified in a recent review of the CHC02 Community Services Training Package, which led to the implementation of the new CHC08 Community Services Training Package. While this new training package may address some of the concerns about training content, issues related to the quality of training delivery and assessment and lack of practical experience/work placements are unlikely to be resolved. However, whether the new training package will deal with all the identified problem areas will not become apparent for some time.
Suggestions to improve vocational education and training
Suggestions for improving vocational education and training in alcohol and other drugs work included placing greater emphasis on:
- mental health/alcohol and other drugs comorbidity issues (the presence of two or more disorders)
- provision of clinical work placements.
Managers also noted that, in the employee-selection process, good interpersonal, social and communication skills were considered as important as a potential employee's qualifications. While the new CHC08 Community Services Training Package addresses some of these issues, concern was expressed that the introduction of generic topics into the new package has been at the expense of alcohol and drug-specific topics and content.
2008 enrolment data
Secondary analysis of 2008 data identified 1825 VET students enrolled in the Certificate IV and Diploma in Alcohol and Other Drugs Work and 42 032 higher education undergraduate students enrolled in topics relevant to generic alcohol and other drugs work (for example, counselling and client support). Compared with higher education students, VET students were older.
Vocational education and training–higher education pathways
An important aspect of this project was an examination of two-way flows and relationships between the VET and higher education sectors. Available data indicate that 10% and 20% of VET students who were enrolled respectively in certificate IV and diploma courses held a pre-existing higher education qualification. Students holding only a secondary school level education (high school Year 12 or less) were more likely to enrol in certificate-level courses than diploma courses. The larger proportion of students (1 in 5) enrolled in VET diploma courses with an existing higher education qualification suggests that an increasingly high standard of course content and delivery may be expected by students and required by employers in the future. This indicates that the VET sector could offer more advanced qualifications that are comparable with higher education qualifications and which address the complex issues and diverse skills needed by the sector.
Importantly, 11% of higher education students also had commenced or completed prior VET qualifications, indicating that the VET sector may provide a pathway into the higher education sector for a significant proportion of students.
Recommendations and implications
The imperative of the sector to move towards a universal adoption of a minimum qualification provides an opportunity for the VET sector to contribute to the workforce development needs of the alcohol and other drugs sector. While VET currently plays an important role in the provision of entry-level qualifications, it also has potential to meet the increasingly complex needs of alcohol and other drugs work by providing ongoing training and higher-level qualifications at the vocational graduate level. However, for this potential to be realised, the relatively high levels of dissatisfaction with the VET sector and concern over the ability of certificate IV level training to meet the needs of the alcohol and other drugs workforce warrant attention.
Development of more effective linkages and relationships between the VET sector and the alcohol and other drugs sector may go some way towards achieving this. The linkages that currently exist are largely informal, and considerable scope exists to strengthen and formalise these relationships. Improved linkages and relationships could increase the quality of training being provided by the VET sector and may assist in addressing the workforce development needs of the alcohol and other drugs sector.
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