Insights from a working disability support worker
Are you thinking about getting into disability support work? Wondering what a disability support worker does? You’re not the only one. There are plenty of job opportunities for support workers, especially as the industry grows over the next few years.
But you might also be wondering… what’s the job really like? Is it actually something I could do? Am I suitable?
My brother Adam is a disability support worker. He’s been in the job for around a year now and he always has the BEST stories about what he gets up to at work. A lot of the time, I’m really surprised, because it’s often not the sort of work I expected when I first heard he was going into the industry.
So I recently sat him down for a proper interview so I could ask him all the things I’ve ever wanted to know about his job, plus get some tips for anyone who’s considering support work themselves.
Adam: creative, cool uncle, support worker
First of all, a bit about Adam. He’s my brother, so I know him better than most, and I think it’s interesting to see the kind of person he is and how that fits with his job as a support worker.
Adam has recently moved out of mum and dad’s and lives with three of his friends. He’s quite the creative. A couple of years ago, he graduated from uni with a Bachelor degree in Photography, and he’s also really into plants.
In his spare time, Adam hangs out with my two small kids, takes them out for churros, and lets them jump all over him (best uncle ever).
Adam is 24, so he’s quite a bit younger than most of his colleagues. In QLD, where he’s based, 49% of disability support workers are 45 and older, compared to 34% of the workforce. (Source: Australian Disability Workforce Report)
So now you know the personal stuff… let’s talk about the work.
Why did you become a disability support worker?
Adam chose it partly for the job opportunities, and partly because he felt confident he could pick up the skills he needed. Plus, with a background in customer service, as well as some more physical roles like nursery work, he had some existing skills he could transfer over.
“It just kind of clicked that this was a job that I could do and I felt confident they were skills I could learn and develop.”
“I was very encouraged by all the articles talking about how it's going to be a booming industry and there’s a huge call for workers, particularly with the NDIS coming out.”
How did you get started?
After uni finished, Adam started looking at his next steps and things he wanted to try. Although he’s qualified in photography, those sorts of jobs are hard to come by, and Adam wasn’t ready to start his own business.
“So I thought a caring type job involving people would be something I could do. And it seemed to me like an industry that was quite easy and straightforward to get into.”
Did you do any study before you became a support worker?
According to a report, around 1 in 5 new recruits come with a disability-related Cert III qualification and above. (Source: Australian Disability Workforce Report)
Adam was one of those recruits, as he did the Certification III in Individual Support (Disability). And while you don’t need to study to get a job in support, Adam was really glad he did.
“The information I got and the training really prepared me and gave me clear expectations for what would come. I think what I valued most was having access to the trainers and their experience in the industry and just being able to chat with them and learn from them.”
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
For Adam, it’s all about the people. He gets to be part of people’s lives, see the impact he can have, and the positivity he can bring to their day.
“In a lot of other industries, you’re very disconnected from the impact that you might have.”
Plus, he gets to build some nice long-term relationships because he gets to see most of his clients once or twice a week on an ongoing basis. So Adam’s clients get pretty used to him, and even their neighbours and friends start to recognise him and say hi.
But above all, Adam’s favourite thing is that there's a lot of laughter and humour throughout the day.
“You wouldn't expect it because often the work that we do can be challenging and sometimes awkward or uncomfortable. But I think there's just a great atmosphere of people just trying to make the best of things and just have a really good time.”
What surprised you about your job?
Adam was most surprised by the variety of work and the things he does as a disability support worker. Especially that a lot of his job focuses on providing social supports and community activities.
“Honestly, I thought it would be more hands on personal care type stuff like showering, hygiene, cooking, and shopping.”
“But a lot of what I've done has been social supports; taking someone out in the community, helping them to be involved in activities that appeal to their interests and being there for them.”
A day in the life of a disability support worker
So, what does a disability support worker do? There really is no typical day as a support worker - a lot happens outside of the 9-5 and you can’t always predict what will happen.
“Sometimes there are long days and sometimes there are very short days and there's a lot of variety.”
Adam finds that most of his supports happen during business hours, but occasionally he does some longer days and even overnights from around 5pm to 8am the next morning. WIth overnights, Adam says to be prepared with good food and plenty of water to get you through.
“I think just being able to pace yourself and just accept what happens, happens during the shift. It’s the nature of working with people - things are unpredictable.”
Even though there are no typical days, here’s some of what he might get up to...
7:15am Start work at a client’s house
7:30am Help them get dressed
7:45am Help with breakfast and any medications they need
8:00am Drive them to a day service for activities or outings*
9:00am Head to domestic support with another client at their home
9:30am Help do the washing up and do a general tidy up
10:30am Drive them to the shops to pick up some essentials
12:00pm Eat lunch
1:00pm Drop them home
1:30pm Pick up the first client from their day service
2:00pm Help them with their afternoon routines, like showering and prepping dinner
4:00pm Home time
* Day services usually include a variety of activities and group programs. At one of the day services Adam works with, they offer a cooking program, a music program, help with meals on wheels, do movie days, do gardening, and take trips to the library.
What could make things easier for support workers and participants?
Adam was pretty positive about things overall, but he did have some thoughts on communication and how that could be done better.
“There's been a lot of promise of new technologies coming out to make these processes smoother and easier, but so far it's being quite clunky.”
“For example, the time requested for support might need to change. Or the person coming on shift might be someone who isn't in their normal routine and the client isn’t expecting them.”
“Often there can be lapses in communication where the info doesn't get through and that can be frustrating or stressful for the client because they have expectations or routines that are important to them.”
“I'm hoping that with advances in technology and automation, it’ll get to a point where that information won’t require a person at a computer or on a phone.”
This gap in communication for NDIS support workers and participants is what First2Care is trying to provide, especially with our rostering feature. This helps support workers see when their next shift is, communicate directly with the client, and get automatic updates when there are shift changes or vacant shifts available (either for new clients or when the original support worker is unwell).
Have you notice an increase in demand for support workers recently?
“I get the sense that there's definitely always people on the lookout for new talent and fresh faces. And I think it’s also just the nature of the role that people like to move around and try new companies. So things always opening up and changing.”
Adam’s sense is pretty spot on with the stats. The most recent Australian Disability Workforce Report (July 2018) shows that:
● Overall, the disability support workforce grew by 13.8% in 2017-18
● Casual employment is rising (and possibly on track to overtake permanent employment in the coming years)
As more eligible participants move into Specialist Disability Accommodation (out of aged care facilities) in the coming years, this will also increase the need for disability support workers.
The NDIA advised Senate Estimates that “2,058 young people in residential aged care are scheduled to commence transition by 30 June 2017” and that “around 72 per cent (4,488 people) of this group are to have commenced transition by mid-2018”. (Source: Summer Foundation)
And that’s great news, because it means more jobs for people who want a career in support - but most importantly, more appropriate support to help participants achieve their goals.
What are your tips for anyone considering a career in support?
Adam’s top tip was to start with study, if you can. He started with the Certificate III in Individual Support (Disability), which is a 6 month course.
“I think doing study is definitely beneficial, even though it’s not essential. If you're feeling like you need that boost in confidence and a good foundation of understanding before jumping in, I highly recommend you look into it.”
And if you’re not sure whether it’s right for you, or what makes a great disability support worker, Adam offered some reassurance.
“I think if you're thinking about becoming a support worker that you’re probably already the type of person who will suit that role.”
“I think just try to prepare yourself and accept the fact that to begin with, you will feel out of your depth and maybe a little overwhelmed at times. But it does get easier. You’ve just got to stick with it.”
How do you find work?
If you’re seriously considering a career in support work, you may be wondering how you’re going to build your client base. There are a number of agencies for support workers that you can sign up to, to be discovered by participants in and out the NDIS. They all have different cost structures and insurance benefits. Adam works with a local agency who connects him with clients and manages scheduling, but there are other ways to get work too.
(Keep an eye out for a list that features the pros and cons of each on the blog soon).
As the number of pre-planning participants using First2Care climbs, and as more and more people receive their NDIS plans, we’re getting more demand for disability support workers via our app.
If you’d like to be found by these participants, it’s a good idea to download the First2Care Support Worker Mobile App and create a free profile, to join the growing marketplace of workers. Adam plans to sign up so he can open up more work options in the future if he wants to - and you should too.
Over to you…
If you’re already a disability support worker (like Adam), what’s your experience been like? And what are your top tips for anyone considering a career move?
Or if you’re about to make the switch to support work, do you plan to study first or dive straight in?
Leave a comment and let’s continue the discussion below.
One last thing... make sure you download the First2Care Support Worker Mobile App and create your free profile - getting started is quick and easy!