After several years of consultation on the vexed question of registration, the Australian Community Workers Association recently launched an online register for community workers to highlight their qualifications, experience and security clearance – to benefit both clients and community workers, writes Sha Cordingley.
In 2011 we began to consult with stakeholders about registration. It followed years of quiet lobbying from members, particularly those who were self-employed, for a regulation system that would enhance the professional standing of community workers.
We released a members’ discussion paper in 2012 to gather information on registration and to start the conversation on the complexities of regulating the profession. We hoped to test the waters and get an idea of the level of support.
In Australia there are two main types of registration:
- mandatory: governed by legislation that makes it illegal to practice the nominated profession or trade unless registered; and
- self-regulation: professional associations and their members determine the professional, educational and practice standards of practitioners.
What we really needed to know was which of type of regulation, if either, was favoured by our members. Clearly, the two types would need different strategies.
Following the discussion paper we developed an online survey to elicit more information from our members and subscribers.
An overwhelming number of respondents – 93 per cent – favoured regulation. And quite surprisingly, half the respondents also supported mandatory registration. Respondents reported that the main reasons for supporting a registration system were to: ‘demonstrate professionalism’, ‘ensure unethical workers do not continue to work in the sector’ and ‘protect the public’.
Respondents also noted that regulation would help raise the profile of the profession. Many identified the potential for policing the profession. As one response noted: “At the moment there is virtually no policing of this industry other than state-by-state police clearance checks, which, as far as I am concerned, is not enough.”
In light of unsuccessful attempts by other health professionals including social workers to join the existing registration scheme administered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, the ACWA board determined that pursuing compulsory regulation for community workers was not going to be an easy path.
In addition to consulting about registration with our members, we also sought the views of major employers, including state and local governments, large not-for-profits organisations, unions, peak bodies, recruitment agencies and education providers to ascertain support for a registration scheme and better understand its value to all our stakeholders. A second round of consultations provided some useful information, and to our surprise and delight, registration was unanimously supported in terms of the value it can provide to practitioners, employers, service users and their families.
Many employers, whilst intending to continue with their own recruitment processes, believed having a third party to verify the qualifications and work experience of prospective employees would assist in minimising risk by establishing a required standard of practice. For practitioners, registration was seen as a way of validating professionalism, qualifications, training and work history.
Above all, registration was seen as a tool for service users and their families to authenticate the qualifications and work histories of people who may be providing in-home services. As the NDIS rolled out and new funding models were being developed this appeared to be one of the most significant benefits. For our board the obvious course of action was to develop a self-regulation scheme in the first instance.
Normally self-regulation is where the professional association in partnership with members of the profession determine the standards and educational requirements of a practitioner. An example of this is the accounting profession where practitioners work towards the title ‘chartered’ or ‘certified practising’ and can then use the post nominal of CPA. In Australia it is not a legal requirement for accountants to be registered unless they are practising as financial advisors, tax agents, external auditors or liquidators. These branches of the profession are overseen by such statutory authorities as ASIC and the Tax Practitioners Board.
For many years a pressing issue for ACWA has been that community work is not recognisable as a cohesive profession in the same way as say accounting is or social work. Community work practitioners work with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of the community and yet, unlike accountants, doctors and nurses, are unlikely to be identified by their profession: rather, they tend to be identified by the demographic of the group of people to whom they provide services such as young people or older Australians.
Not only do community work professionals work in a variety of settings including government, not-for-profit and business organisations, they also work under an assortment of specialist professional designations such as welfare officer, community development worker, youth worker, housing support officer, student counsellor, rehabilitation counsellor, family and children’s services officer, aged care worker, aged care assessment officer, disability support worker, community centre manager and case worker. They are also a mobile workforce moving across fields of specialty, for example, from youth work to family services or disability services to aged care. This makes registration highly desirable for the profession as well as for the community.
Community workers register
Earlier this year after six months of development and testing we launched the online Community Workers Register. The register allows and encourages practitioners to highlight their qualifications, industry experience, professional development training and security clearance (all checked by ACWA). It also enables practitioners to demonstrate their commitment to ethical practice.
In time, we believe that registration will be the first port of call for employers, recruiters and service users, thus providing practitioners with a valuable resource for developing their careers and searching for jobs. The register has been designed to be accessible and connected to LinkedIn profiles. It is inexpensive to join and can be claimed as a tax exemption: a win for all, and as one member said: “It will safeguard both clients and workers.”
Sha Cordingley is chief executive officer of the Australian Community Workers Association. For more information on the registration scheme, go to acwa.org.au
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