Nearly 60 per cent of disability service providers say they find it hard to recruit support workers highlighting a labour market struggling to grow fast enough to meet demand for quality staff, a new survey shows.

The annual State of the Disability Sector Report by peak body National Disability Services also found significant workforce shortages in allied health, with most providers saying it is moderately or extremely difficult to recruit psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.

The proportion of providers reporting recruitment challenges is also up from the 2016 survey.

The findings highlight the problem of the low attractiveness of the industry, as allied health occupations are not in shortage nationally, the report said.

Average working hours in the disability sector remain low at 21 hours for disability support workers and 24 hours for allied health professionals. Casual part-time work is also the biggest employment growth area with a 3 per cent increase in the last quarter, the report found.

“The NDIS transition is capping the ability of disability service providers to offer competitive employment benefits and secure positions,” the peak body said.

The results back the findings of a recent Productivity Commission report, which found the NDIS was unlikely to have enough providers and workers to deliver the full rollout of the scheme without further policy intervention.

“Solutions will come from regulatory change – including additional workplace relations flexibilities – and disability service providers further embracing innovation and productivity improvements,” the NDS report said.

Survey respondents said meeting the demand for one-to-one support at peak times was a key challenge.

Dampening business confidence

The survey, which captured the responses of 516 disability service providers around Australia, found that despite increasing service demand, only 58 per cent of providers were planning to increase their services in the next 12 months, down on previous years.

Low NDIS prices, the costs of change and uncertainty about their financial sustainability were identified as key concerns.

Half of disability service providers agreed or strongly agreed they would have to reduce the quality of their services due to NDIS prices.

Consumer movements

According to the survey results, clients are increasingly exercising their right to switch providers in the disability marketplace. In the survey, only one-third of respondents said they retained all of their clients.

Most consumers are moving to existing not-for-profit organisations. However, 8 per cent switched to new not-for-profit organisations and a similar percentage moved to small for-profits, including sole traders.

Planned growth into related markets such as community aged care and mental health also remained on the agenda of providers.

NDS chief executive Dr Ken Baker said most disability service providers support the direction of change in the sector, but felt under pressure.

“NDIS prices need to reflect the realistic costs of good quality service provision and stimulate investment in growth and change,” he said.

“The sector will be keenly watching the outcome of the Independent Pricing Review established by the NDIA.

“The disability services sector is keen to work with the NDIA to fix the problems and get the scheme on track. We are determined to see the NDIS succeed. Too much is at stake to let it fail,” said Dr Baker.

Read the report here.

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