Need help with career in disability (Australia)
May 27, 2013 1:40 AM   Subscribe

I have a scattered work history and have been job hopping too much, not sure where I can go within the industry. Please read more.

I'm a 30 year old Australian guy who's done a lot of different jobs, but I've decided that from here on I want to focus on building my skill set in the disability industry. This is because - through happenstance and active planning - ever since I left university (BA Arts with Honours in History) I have been either been employed in human services work, or with my Californian wife gone and done crazy things like move to the States and complete internships on organic farms.

I want to provide a chronological summary of my work history since finishing uni to give you some idea of where I'm at at the moment, glossing over my current role (which I desperately want to quit because it isn't working out – it's in sustainable agriculture, a good lesson about not going for your 'dream' job), and jobs I've had in transition, or on farms etc:

*1 year teaching English in Japan

*2 years as a carer/social educator in a group home for adults with disabilities in the Southern Highlands in NSW

*9 months with an organisation in Sacramento, California, where I was an Employment Training Specialist, or job coach. In the States, this means a combination between direct support (for adults with disabilities and mental health diagnoses, usually 5 hours a day) and knowledge work such as utilising applied behaviour analysis and creating task analyses to assist the consumer (the person 'consuming', or using, the service) to learn socially appropriate behaviour and vocational skills.

*After moving back to Australia, 9 months in a DES program in employment services in Western Sydney (never again. Western Sydney was fine, employment services was not).

*4 months with a local council in Sydney as a parking officer (yes, it was way better than employment services, let me tell you) while I started and made significant headway with a Certificate IV in Community Services (electives in disability).

*And finally, my current job. I won't go into the details, but basically it's not a good fit for my skill set and I'm not happy with the way I'm being treated there.

The problem I have now is that I'm 9 units down out of 14 in a Certificate IV in Community Services (electives in disability), and on my second probationary period at my current job. I like to read which way the wind blows and what not, so I started looking for work, thinking that this was a good time to get back into disability on either a full or part time basis. It was an eye opener.

Firstly there are no full time disability support worker positions in Sydney, seemingly, and most of the positions are simply casual carer roles, many of which require a car, which I don't have. Secondly, I haven't been able to find a job like the one I had in California (which I liked so much because of the combination of direct support and knowledge work, which is a better use of my skill set). Thirdly, I value myself at between $40,000 – $50,000 wage wise, ESPECIALLY when living in Sydney, and I can't find anything within that bracket that I'm qualified for or experienced enough within the industry to do (no project management experience, for example, no tertiary quals in social science etc). Conversely, I'm hesitant to take a carer position purely on the basis that at under $20 an hour it would hurt my wife and I financially (consider that I've been working part time casual since November last year).

So I feel kind of stuck, at the moment, and starting to suspect the best thing to do is to go back to carer work, dig my heels in and work my way up through an organisation in order to get a position like I want. My plan after completing the Cert IV was to go on to do a Diploma, and then complete the remaining units for a Bachelor of Social Science through correspondence.

Basically I'm looking for a way forward, and would love it if anyone on Metafilter works in the industry and can give me some pointers. I'm looking ideally for a position where I'm working for individuals with a disability, preferably directly but with some focus on the planning and implementing stages and not just as a care worker. If my expectations are inflated, please tell me. If there's obvious solutions that I've overlooked, please tell me. If there's a long hard road ahead, please tell me.

I definitely feel that this is the price I pay for moving to other countries and changing jobs every year or two, but I feel also that I've spent the majority of my adult working life working with people and helping to improve their lives, and I want to consolidate these experiences and skills and move ahead in a more decisive way. I'm sure I don't know about all the avenues and options available to me, so treat me like a blank canvas.

posted by jrobin276 to Work & Money (4 answers total)
Have you considered starting up a project independently, creating community and funding development for it, and drafting the partnerships necessary to get it going? Essentially giving yourself the job you desire. I job-hopped for a while because I had a real interest in not just fundraising but mentoring people to do fundraising. I found consulting in this area to be particularly difficult (old guards die hard). I started up a community project within the social enterprise arena last October and developed the grants and partnerships to where the charity is opening its first shop in less than four weeks.

The skill you would need to learn is writing grants and executive summaries. Grants require doing a survey to ascertain need for your product or service among a group of people but also to learn if there are existing competitor products or services that are not reaching communities as they were intended. A good survey might take a month or two to do but it is better to get the proposal crafted before one even thinks of where the money may lie. Many grants will pay for sessional work not salary, so take that in mind. Detailed cost and revenue budgets for the start-up and first 3 years of the project are key to getting the proposal solid. There may be grants available but there are also companies that have the openings/salaries you want, in that case walking a well-crafted proposal through the door (before you apply for the job officially) would be a good way to signal that you could be considered even if you take the job and end up putting the project off until funding comes through.

It took a lot of courage to go out on a limb and assemble the foundation for a community project. I credit my partner for a lot of encouragement but also friends for listening when I thought I could have sworn no one gave a damn. What I tried to remember most was "it's not about me", this project can provide benefit but may not provide me with a salary. Considering the beneficiaries and having conversations about the business proposition with these future clients and customers meant everything to the success of the application.
posted by parmanparman at 2:24 AM on May 27, 2013

I'm looking ideally for a position where I'm working for individuals with a disability, preferably directly but with some focus on the planning and implementing stages and not just as a care worker.

So you want your employer to be the disabled person that you are helping? At the salary level you want, you would be hard pressed to find that in the US unless you lucked into finding a wealthy disabled person who wanted some sort of a personal assistant who could also function as a care worker. It's probably slightly more realistic than planning to win the lottery.

I don't know how social services works in Australia though.
posted by yohko at 2:42 PM on May 27, 2013

Hi jrobin276! First of all, you will not get the salary you want doing any sort of direct support work. Disability support is not a well-paying job, nor is it glamorous, sexy or even fun a lot of the time.

Years ago I worked as a Training and Development Officer in a supported employment business service run by Endeavour, a Queensland organisation that has branched out into NSW in the last few years. Their website is here. The TDO role sounds very similar to what you were doing in California, but within a business service - I was the industrial trainer, training the workers with disabilities and the supervisory staff in mailing, packaging and sheet metal fabrication (downpipes, gutters, fascias etc), developing the training courses and SOPs for each of the processes used within the factory and assessing competence. The other aspect of the role was welfare-oriented and involved developing and administering Positive Behaviour Support plans (ABA based), maximising income and benefits for the workers, supporting them to move into integrated employment, training in communication, literacy, numeracy and other employment-related soft skills and making referrals to other support organisations when necessary (for housing etc). Endeavour also ran farms, plant nurseries, timber furniture factories, rag recycling facilities and various other things. There was also a fair bit of policy work, both disability support-related and more general service- and organisational-level. Some organisations with similar supported employment facilities in NSW at the time were the Red Cross, House With No Steps and the Cerebral Palsy League. The job paid about $28k, 12-odd years ago, and the only essential qualification was a Cert IV in Workplace Assessment and Training.

I loved this job. It was interesting and varied, and fulfilling - I trained people through sheet metal worker apprenticeships and getting their forklift licenses, and helped people to learn to recognise their name (the workers had a very wide range of abilities!). A very, very quick google returns this expired vacancy, which is the type of position I'm talking about but doesn't list any salary info. Searching for 'supported employment' might help.

Otherwise, how did you find working with ABA? That was my career trajectory - support work while I was at uni, to training/ supported employment, to working as a challenging behaviour consultant, and then on to management and now regulation. If you liked that aspect of your work perhaps consider supporting people to change their behaviours - it pays better than regular support work, although it is generally harder (you will most likely be in physical danger at times).

I'm sorry I don't have more general job-seeking advice - I haven't lived in Australia for almost a decade now and am quite out of the loop. I would suggest finding a directory of provider organisations and looking at their websites or contacting them individually to ask about opportunities.

Good on you! There aren't enough young men in disability services and it always makes me happy to see! I do hope you can find a decently-paid position and not be lost to the field forever - best of luck to you.
posted by goo at 3:38 PM on May 27, 2013

Also! Volunteering can be a great way to get your foot in the door and start to build a network. Ask provider organisations about voluntary opportunities if you have any time to spare.
posted by goo at 3:53 PM on May 27, 2013

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