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Providing the evidence base to reduce harmful AOD use in
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
Workforce development in the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) field aims to build the capacity of organisations and individuals to prevent and respond to AOD-related problems and to promote evidence-based practice. It goes beyond the provision of education and training to include issues such as recruitment and retention, workforce planning, professional and career development and worker wellbeing. As such, workforce development can be defined as:
a multi-faceted approach which addresses the range of factors impacting on the ability of the workforce to function with maximum effectiveness in responding to alcohol and other drug related problems. Workforce development should have a systems focus. Unlike traditional approaches, this is broad and comprehensive, targeting individual, organisational and structural factors, rather than just addressing education and training of individual mainstream workers .
This broad definition of workforce development involves an extensive range of individual, organisational, structural and systematic factors that impact on the ability of the workforce to effectively prevent and respond to AOD issues. Without addressing these underpinning and contextual factors, the ultimate aim of increasing the workforce’s effectiveness is unlikely to be achieved .
The Indigenous AOD workforce comprises workers who respond to AOD issues and provide services to Indigenous people and communities in Australia. This workforce includes, but is not limited to, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, Aboriginal Mental Health Workers, and Aboriginal liaison officers, as well as Indigenous doctors, nurses, drug and alcohol clinicians, social workers, community health workers, and mobile patrol staff . To date, no nationally coordinated profiling exercise has been undertaken to map the size and nature of the Indigenous AOD workforce.
The size of the workforce involved in addressing AOD problems among Indigenous people is difficult to ascertain, but it is clear that such workers are usually employed in comparatively low status, lower paid positions such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers or community workers .
A broad range of issues can impact on the wellbeing of Indigenous and non-Indigenous AOD workers. These include high levels of stress due to stigmatisation, complex client presentations, difficult working conditions and limited training and support . Such issues are likely to be exacerbated for Indigenous workers as they attempt to support community members dealing with profound and complex AOD problems.
Indigenous AOD workers find aspects of their jobs extremely rewarding including helping their people, enhancing community services and improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders health outcomes and life expectancies. Nevertheless, against a background of disadvantage and complex AOD use, Indigenous AOD workers face unique stressors including:
These challenges mean that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workers have distinct workforce development needs, and workforce development strategies are required that can be implemented in a culturally safe manner. This includes measures such as:
From a workforce development perspective, there are a number of measures that could enhance the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workers. These include:
NCETA has produced a number of resources aimed at enhancing capacity and improving worker wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workers. You can access these resources using the links provided below:
NCETA’s Feeling deadly/working deadly resource kit is aimed at reducing stress and burnout and enhancing wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workers. It forms part of NCETA’s program of work on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander worker wellbeing. The kit was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.
This kit is intended for use by Indigenous AOD workers, their managers and supervisors. Mainstream AOD workers and managers may also find the kit useful.
NCETA has also produced an online directory of resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workers. The directory aims to provide easy and user-friendly access to worker wellbeing resources throughout Australia. The online directory forms part of NCETA’s Feeling Deadly/Working resource kit which was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.
The directory is intended for use by Indigenous AOD workers and their managers and supervisors. Mainstream AOD workers, managers and supervisors, and services with Indigenous clients may also find the directory useful. The information in the directory is primarily focused on supporting Indigenous AOD workers, rather than clients.
NCETA has produced a series of publications examining Indigenous AOD worker wellbeing issues including workers’ experiences and perspectives on wellbeing, stress and burnout.
The major aim of NCETA’s program of work on Indigenous AOD workforce development is to build the capacity of AOD workers and service providers and to improve Indigenous workers’ wellbeing.
Copies of the following Indigenous worker wellbeing publications can be downloaded from the Knowledge Centre website:
An examination of more than 400 reports, journal articles and other documents relevant to stress, burnout and wellbeing of workers responding to Indigenous AOD issues. The report: defines the workforce and the concepts of stress, burnout and wellbeing; outlines the broader context in which responses to Indigenous AOD issues occur; and provides an overview the key areas of concern that impact on Indigenous AOD workers’ stress levels, risk of burnout and wellbeing.
This publication reports on the findings of an online survey that examined levels of stress and wellbeing and their contributing factors among a sample of AOD specialist and generic health workers from government, non-government and community-controlled organisations. The results of the survey suggest that in order to effectively improve worker wellbeing and reduce turnover, organisations may need to implement customised strategies that meet the needs of Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers.
This paper highlights the importance of implementing workforce development strategies that focus on achieving culturally appropriate, equitable and supportive organisational conditions for Indigenous AOD workers.
This report presents the findings from interviews and focus groups conducted with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers with a specific emphasis on Aboriginal AOD workers’ stories about wellbeing, stress and burnout. The research examined the factors and strategies that support resilience and identifies a range of workforce development, organisational and individual strategies for reducing work-related stress and enhancing worker wellbeing.
The paper identifies mutual support networks, training in assertiveness and boundary setting, workloads that consider Indigenous ways of working and adequate remuneration as some of the workforce strategies that could be used to improve Indigenous worker wellbeing.
There are a growing number of AOD courses that address Indigenous AOD issues. In 2009 21% of accredited AOD courses in Australia were either specifically designed for Indigenous students or covered Indigenous issues in depth. See Figure 1.
Figure 1: The proportion of accredited courses with Indigenous content. Source: Roche et al. (2008)
There has been an important recent initiative in the development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD workforce. This was the acknowledgement of the Certificate IV in Alcohol and other Drugs as the nationally recognised training program for Indigenous people interested in or currently working in the AOD sector. The movement from Certificate III to Certificate IV level as the recognised training program represents an important step forward in the professionalisation of Indigenous AOD workers.
1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of working refers to recognising the importance of, and impact on, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of issues such as: Australia’s post-colonial Indigenous history; kinship; commitment to community; grief, loss and sorry business; holistic approaches to health; women’s and men’s business; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of time; respect for Elders; and connection to Country and health .