Thought leaders and innovators - Sylvia Capps, Board Director and CEO - United Disability Care (NSW and QLD)

Carer walking disabled recipient

The National Skills Commission estimates the number of workers required in the care and support sector will grow from 365,000 in 2019-20 to over 720,000 workers by 2049-50. Workforce demand is expected to exceed supply over the next 30 years, with a shortfall of more than 200,000 workers by 2049-50. To meet this workforce challenge, leaders of care and support services will need to draw upon an array of tools and networks available to them. However, some like Sylvia Capps, will go further and step outside the box in order to find the right solutions to her workforce needs.

Sylvia Capps, Board Director and CEO - United Disability Care (NSW and QLD) offers some thoughts on how adopting new practices and technology can offer hope to providers struggling with workforce retention and attraction. This workforce challenge is something we need to address because at the end of the day our purpose is to support those who need our services most.

Like many organisations, United Disability Care has experienced high staff turnover and workforce shortages. Understanding what was driving staff turnover was the critical first step in addressing the issue. According to Capps, their data was showing that staff were burnt out and felt a lack of job and career autonomy. There was a clear shift from many staff in their attitudes towards work. To manage the high demands of their job, staff were looking for greater autonomy and flexibility. The data was signalling an important message that returning to pre-pandemic ways of retaining and recruiting workers was no longer an option.

The demand for greater employee flexibility has been a growing issue for employers, especially post the COVID-19 pandemic. EY research in 2021 found that more than half (54%) of employees surveyed were considering leaving their job post COVID-19 pandemic if they are not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work.

Capps set out to build a more sustainable pipeline of workers into the business, by drawing on her understanding of worker demands and the shift in the market towards technology solutions. One of the trends noticed by Capps was that staff leaving employment with a traditional service provider moved to ABN platform providers like Kynd and Mabel. It wasn’t that the grass was greener elsewhere, rather it was about people taking control of their working environment and searching for the ideal work-life balance.

Capps and the Board agreed to explore United Disability Care tapping into a pipeline of workers available through the emerging technology platforms, Kynd and Mabel. Despite having access to over 12,000 workers through these platforms, the journey to lock in this workforce strategy was not without its issues. With the possibility that as many as 20% of the United Disability Care workforce could be operating through the likes of Kynd and Mabel, care would be needed to ensure that the arrangement remained consistent with industrial laws. It was also important that United Disability Care heed the signals being sent by their workforce for greater flexibility and control of their work.

Capps admits that it took some work to get the Board to agree to the strategy. “We highlighted everything from staff turnover rates to the financial benefits to the business, including a reduction in marketing and advertising expenses”. Having good data and using it to make the business case for this strategy was what eventually convinced the Board to back in this initiative.

Capp’s story emphasises the importance of collecting data on workforce, which is critical for board decision making and should be leveraged by organisations to drive innovation in response to the current workforce challenges.

As United Disability Care looks to the future, the pilot model will move further north from New South Wales to Queensland, where Capps believes there are significant opportunities to penetrate the market and drive new ways of working collaboratively across the sector. “Working for ourselves and our own outcomes can no longer be the way forward” says Capps, and “yes that can be scary, but not as scary as being unable to support the people who need us most”.