The results of the March Spotlight Topic: Recruitment Difficulty

  • Published: 30 May 2018

Disability support workers

Each quarter the Workforce Wizard ‘Spotlight Topic’ shines a light on an issue of importance in the sector that is better tracked over a year than every quarter.

Recruitment difficulty is the Spotlight Topic in the March 2017 and March 2018 quarters. The same three questions asked in the March 2017 quarter were asked again one year later to identify changes in the recruitment challenges providers were facing.

Over 90 per cent of users who entered data on their disability support workforce also responded to the Spotlight Topic questions. In 2018 there were 176 valid responses.

Organisational recruitment activity

Nearly fourth-fifths of organisations (79 per cent) indicated that they advertised to fill at least one disability support worker position in the March 2018 quarter, which was a little higher than a year ago (76 per cent).

Organisations in every state except NSW had become more active in recruitment in the March 2018 quarter. In 2017, NSW was the most active state in recruiting direct support workers (88% of organisations advertised to recruit in the March 2017 quarter). However, NSW was the least active state in the March 2018 quarter (71% of organisations advertised to recruit). Multi-state organisations were most active in recruitment, with almost all organisations advertised to fill a position (94%).

Table 1: Organisations which advertised to fill a direct support worker role, March 2018 & 2017 quarter, by state

State Yes (%) n
Mar 18 Mar 17 Mar 18 Mar 17
Multi-state 94 75 16 12
South Australia 89 75 18 20
Western Australia 86 82 29 33
Queensland 82 70 28 33
Victoria 74 68 35 44
New South Wales 71 88 35 33
Other states and territories N/A N/A 15 17
Total 79 76 176 192

Note: n is the number of organisations in the sample.

Were employers successful in filling their vacancies?

Seven out of ten organisations (70 per cent) were able to fill all disability support positions advertised in the March 2018 quarter. Compared to last year, recruitment has become a little easier (65 percent of organisations were able to fill all advertised positions in the March 2017 quarter).

The level of difficulty is variable across the states. For example, Western Australia, which had the lowest rate of filled vacancies (56%) in the March 2017 quarter, became the state with the highest rate (75%) this quarter. Queensland alternatively had the highest rate (79%) in the March 2017 quarter but dropped to below the national average (67%) in 2018. South Australia had the lowest rate of filled vacancies in the March 2018 quarter, with only 53% of organisations saying they had filled all advertised positions.

A handful of organisations (3.6%) indicated that direct support worker positions are advertised all year around and that they have no recruitment limit, rather taking all acceptable candidates.

Table 2: Organisations with advertised positions filled and unfilled, March 2018 & 2017 quarter, by state (%)

State Filled (%) Unfilled (%) n
Mar 18 Mar 17 Mar 18 Mar 17 Mar 18 Mar 17
Multi-state 80 N/A 20 N/A 10 N/A
Western Australia 75 56 25 44 24 25
Victoria 73 62 27 38 26 29
Queensland 67 79 33 21 21 19
New South Wales 65 67 35 33 23 27
South Australia 53 64 47 36 15 14
Other states and territories N/A N/A N/A N/A 9 19
Total 70 65 30 35 128 133

Note: n is the number of organisations in the sample. A small proportion (7 per cent) of users did not answer whether or not their advertised positions were filled.

The number of unfilled positions

Most organisations provided the estimated or actual number of advertised positions which were unfilled. In total, there were 342 advertised disability support positions unfilled (from 39 organisations reporting unfilled vacancies) in the March 2018 quarter. In the March 2017 quarter, there were only 155 unfilled positions (from 47 organisations reporting unfilled vacancies).

In the March 2018 quarter, there were 4,167 permanent and casual positions filled (from a sample of 194 organisations), compared with 1,768 positions reported filled in the March 2017 quarter (from a sample of 202 organisations).

The ratio of filled positions to unfilled vacancies in the March 2018 quarter were 12.3. The ratio was higher than March 2017 quarter (11.4). This is consistent with earlier results, suggesting organisations are now more able to fill their advertised positions, compared to a year ago. Since there has not been a significant change in unemployment or underemployment rates, this result may reflect improved recruitment techniques learned through experience.

Reasons for unfilled vacancies

The reasons given for unfilled vacancies are similar in the March 2018 and the March 2017 quarters. The lack of suitable or qualified candidates (43%) is the most cited reason in the March 2018 quarter, followed by candidates being unable or unwilling to meet specific job requirements (29%), geographical factors (13%) and poor employment conditions and/or job prospects (9%).

Similar to the results in a year ago, a number of responses mentioned that the advertised roles required one or more of the following:

  • specific job skills or experiences (e.g. behaviour support for clients with complex needs)
  • personality or demographic characteristics which match the customer requirement
  • willingness to work flexible hours in order to fit shifts that are catered for the needs of the clients.


The specificity of requirements continue to limit the candidate pool for specific positions. Geographic location also continues to pose significant challenges. Thirteen per cent mentioned labour shortage in rural or remote areas or the need (or in some cases, the lack of compensation) to travel across long distances as a factor for the vacancies to be unfilled.

Some organisations (9 per cent) mentioned poor employment conditions, especially the lack of permanent full-time roles, short working hours and low rates of pay as possible reasons for the vacancies to be unfilled.

Table 3: Reasons positions were unfilled at the end of the recruitment round

Reason given % n
Mar 18 Mar 17 Mar 18 Mar 17
Lack of suitable/qualified candidates 43 29 24 20
Candidates unable/unwilling to meet job requirements 29 22 16 15
Geographical factors 13 13 5 9
Poor employment conditions and/or job prospects 9 13 5 9
Organisational factors 2 9 1 6
Limited labour supply for the expanding vacancies 2 7 1 5
Seasonal factors 0 3 0 2
Total (including other) 100 100 57 69

Note: n is the number of time this reason was cited in the answers given. This was an open-ended question so a respondent could mention more than one factor.

It is important to note that the success rate of filled vacancies is only one way of measuring recruitment difficulty. Indeed, a number of organisations remarked that even though they were successful in filling all advertised positions, they did it reluctantly by recruiting unqualified staff just to meet the growing demand. In other words, there are ‘hidden recruitment difficulties’ not picked up through this data.

Recruitment difficulty - allied health professionals

Twenty five out of 26 organisations which entered data on allied health professionals responded to the supplementary questions on recruitment difficulty (96 per cent). Of these, twenty respondents indicated that they advertised to fill an allied health professional position in the March 2018 quarter (80%). There was an increasing number of organisations which advertised to fill a position in the March 2018 quarter. In the March 2017 quarter, only 62 per cent of organisations did so.

While more organisations advertised to fill an allied health position, a smaller proportion of them were successful in filling all the vacancies. Only eight out of eighteen organisations (44%) were able to fill all advertised positions, compared to 64% in the March 2017 quarter.

An estimated 27 allied health professional positions were unfilled (from 9 organisations reporting unfilled vacancies) in the March 2018 quarter, while 88 permanent and casual allied health positions were filled. In the March 2017, an estimated 10 positions were unfilled (from 4 organisations reporting unfilled vacancies), while 64 permanent and casual positions were filled. Note the sample size of allied health workforces is small in both quarters, hence, a direct comparison on the number of filled and unfilled positions between these the quarters is not recommended.

Some of the challenges in recruiting allied health professionals are similar to those faced by organisations recruiting disability support workers. They include the lack of suitable/qualified candidates, poor pay and rural and remote locations. A number of responses mentioned that the salary they can offer is unattractive when compared with the private sector or the adjacent aged care sector.

Unlike disability support workers, increasing specificity in job requirements was not mentioned as a problem for organisations employing allied health professionals. A number of organisations did look for allied health professionals with specific skills from the professional field, which was an ongoing problem for them to find a suitable candidate.

Although the sample is small, both results suggest the difficulty in employing allied health professional for organisations in the disability sector. This result echoes the NDS Market Survey 2017, which found that most difficulty was experienced in the recruitment of allied health employees. In this survey, twenty-three per cent of organisations employing speech therapists and 22 per cent of organisations employing occupational therapists found people with these skills ‘extremely difficult’ to recruit.

Send us your thoughts

If you have an inquiry about the results, or suggestions for a spotlight topic in the upcoming quarters, please contact adrian.lui@nds.org.au.