Excerpt: The Social Sector in NSW - Capitalising on potential for growth

Wednesday 17 March 2021

St Vincent de Paul Society NSW CEO, Jack de Groot

This article originally appeared in the Equity Economics report The Social Sector in NSW - Capitalising on potential for growth

There are so many opportunities for the Social Sector workforce. Some relate to the highly flexible nature of the work (especially recently with the pandemic), as well as the connectivity we can now offer staff, volunteers and clients. For those with skills in partnerships, enormous opportunity exists in the context of the interrelation between the sector, government, philanthropy and the private sector. Where there is more room for an understanding of partnerships, we can have robust conversations and ask ourselves, “What do we all bring to bear, in meeting the challenges of racism, sexism, discrimination? What can we all bring?” One example where this has been really successful is the End Street Sleeping campaign, which is a marvellous collaboration between the sector and government.

Optimism is crucial when thinking about the future. It’s fair to say we could all be a bit more ‘misty-eyed.’ At the same time, a lot needs to change. Sometimes it’s unfortunately – and appropriately – ‘the type of mistyeyed that is more like tears of rage and anger’. This can be the case at times when engaging with government.

While there is room for optimism, many challenges are ahead. For example, there are many, many people with disability that we are simply not reaching. That need is extraordinary. We must do better.

Regarding the workforce, having a trained workforce, who are remunerated appropriately for that extraordinarily important work is essential for us to work through and achieve.

Care needs in NSW are growing. There will be more aged care. More people with disability living longer.

The fundamental remuneration issue in the sector is that employment is insecure due to short-term contracting. In that context, how do you foster not only loyalty, but also a capability focused on the continuous improvement of service provision? How can organisations do this when they might be out of business in a few years, and they might let that work go to someone else?

Where the workforce is insecure and casualised, how do you innovate and increase risk appetite? If you don’t really know your workforce and you aren’t paying them well, how can you achieve good outcomes?

Very sadly we saw the implications of these challenges in elder abuse in residential care.

There can also be a bit of a rhetoric of contracting for outcomes when the practice is contracting for outputs. For outcomes, a whole set of important skills are needed within the workforce, which requires more investment, enabling staff to be more innovative, better at design and monitoring and evaluation. When contracting for outputs, it can be very much volumetric. That is a different skill set entirely.

People are far more educated as they come into the sector. Skills are important. Safety is important. But we also need people who are committed to people in need, with a passion for justice and for being of service. The ability to build relationships is crucial and training on the job is also really important.

I take great joy in my role. It’s varied. It’s fun. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.