Workforce development: the great paradox for the addictions sector
Background: The workforce is without doubt the most important element in addressing addiction-related problems. Without an appropriately skilled, competent and confident workforce able to execute evidence-based interventions and policies, the addictions sector will always be hampered in its efforts. Ensuring that services, programs and policies offer best available options requires the workforce and organisations to function with maximum effectiveness and stability in often challenging environments. The latter includes the increasingly tumultuous and dynamic world of ‘work’ in general.
Traditional thinking has relied heavily on training as a mechanism by which to achieve optimal service delivery. While training is a necessary component in this complex picture, it is insufficient in and of itself. Research consistently indicates major flaws in the ‘train and hope’ approach to knowledge transfer, innovation dissemination and behaviour change as it does not address the multitude of crucial systems factors at play.
In recent times an important paradigm shift has occurred. Training, with its individualised focus, has been usurped and significantly displaced by a broader and more comprehensive concept of ‘workforce development’.
This presentation will detail how workforce development has been reconceptualised as a more effective model to achieve optimal service delivery effectiveness at the individual worker and organisational level.
Methods: A comprehensive literature review was undertaken to examine current challenges facing the world of work at large and specific workforce-related issues confronting the addictions sector, including recruitment, retention and worker wellbeing. The development and implementation of a workforce development approach are detailed.
Results: The literature indicates that without tackling the broad array of systems factors that determine and shape the roles and functions of workers and services, the sector will be limited to ineffective, costly and inappropriate responses. A more efficacious workforce development approach incorporates a “systems perspective” that allows issues related to social equity and work conditions, government policies, and organisational structures to be seen as central. In turn, this allows other factors such as worker wellbeing, recruitment and retention, career pathways, supervision and support to be addressed as pivotal concerns in regard to knowledge and skill transfer. Without taking this broader approach, transient training programs will continue to absorb limited funds and produce relatively modest, if any, change in services, programs and policies.
Conclusions: Although it may seem counter-intuitive that training alone cannot deliver pressingly needed changes and supports to our crucial AOD services, the evidence is abundantly clear. Training is, and will always be, only a small part of any response strategy. A broad and comprehensive workforce development approach that focuses on systems issues is what is required.