Why focusing on the AOD workforce is important

April 2019
Dr Natalie Skinner, Senior Research Fellow, NCETA

Person-centred, culturally aware, trauma sensitive, responsive, evidence-based, high quality. These are some of the aspirations and expectations we have of our AOD specialist services, and public health services in general.

How do we achieve these standards of care to best serve our community? Frontline workers are the key. AOD counsellors, addiction medicine specialists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, GPs, nurses and youth workers are just a few of the diverse roles in the AOD sector. These frontline workers are the catalysts who through their everyday work practices transform policy, research, training and service protocols into the reality of the treatment and care received by AOD clients.

So, why is it important to focus on the workforce? Because they are the delivery agents of our best policy, science and evidence on how to effectively treat and respond to individuals and communities with AOD-related problems.

Therefore, to make sure our best AOD policy and research reaches AOD clients and the broader community, we must support and enhance the AOD workforce – these frontline workers are the bridge between the worlds of policy and research and the reality of everyday work practice in AOD services.

The challenges encountered by this workforce are significant and will be familiar to many readers. These include systemic deficits such as short funding cycles and modest remuneration within industrial awards, organisational challenges related to opportunities and capacities for support and supervision, and negative community attitudes regarding AOD issues. Yet numerous surveys have shown that this workforce, for the most part, comprises workers who are engaged in and committed to work they see as a valuable and meaningful contribution.

‘No man is an island, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’ is an old and famous quote [1] that bears revisiting, for it reflects the essence of workforce development. No AOD worker is an island – they work within the landscape of their team, organisation, sector and policy and funding landscape.

Investing in AOD workforce development at a systemic, organisational and individual level ensures a high-quality workforce and workplace landscape which enables and supports delivery of high-quality care.

Policy makers, funders, researchers and community members can all contribute to shaping the AOD landscape to create a sector in which AOD workers are supported and enabled to deliver the highest quality care.

In our efforts to create the most effective, responsive and sustainable AOD sector we should listen carefully to those who know this landscape most intimately – the frontline workers themselves.

To this end, NCETA will be conducting a national survey of the AOD workforce in 2019. We are currently engaging in comprehensive stakeholder consultation to ensure the survey can effectively capture the voice of the AOD frontline workforce, and best inform workforce development policy and practice.

  1. Donne, J. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, no. 17, pp. 108–9 (1959). Originally published in 1624