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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers

Overview

This page provides information and data on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker workforce.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners play a significant role in meeting the health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The roles that they perform vary and are dependent on the needs of the community they serve, and they often work in collaboration with a range of clinical health practitioners, allied health practitioners and many other types of workers across the health sector to ensure the needs of individuals are adequately met.

There is no new Training Package development work proposed for 2019–2020, as identified skills needs and challenges are being addressed through the current Training Package development project which involves the update of seven qualifications, 78 units of competency and 18 skill sets.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Industry Reference Committee (IRC) is responsible for seven qualifications, packaged in the HLT – Health Training Package.

Information sourced from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

For information on other health-related training and employment, visit the Health industry page and the various sectors.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

IRC and Skills Forecasts

Employment trends

Employment snapshot

In 2019, there were approximately 1,600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers. This number is projected to decline to 1,300 by 2024.

Training trends

Training snapshot

Program enrolments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker-related qualifications have increased each year between 2015 and 2018. In 2018, there were roughly 2,180 enrolments. Program completions rose between 2015 and 2016 and have remained steady since. In 2018, there were more than 330 completions. More than half of all program enrolments were at the certificate IV level. The intended occupation for all training was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker.

Around 58% of training was provided by TAFE institutes and 36% by private training providers. The majority of training (84%) was government funded.

Queensland had the single highest proportion of students enrolled in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker-related qualifications in 2018, with 35%, followed by New South Wales with 24% and Western Australia with 15%.

Approximately 41% of training was delivered in Queensland, followed by 24% in New South Wales and 15% in Western Australia.

There were insufficient enrolments in apprenticeships or traineeships to allow analysis.

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, please visit NCVER’s VET Students by Industry. If you are prompted to log in, please select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

For more data specific to your region please visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

If you are interested in extracting NCVER data to construct tables with data relevant to you, please sign up for a VOCSTATS account.

Industry insights

Industry insights on skills needs

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast identified the top priority skills for the sector as teamwork and communication, problem solving, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, technical / job specific skills and self-management.

The top five identified generic skills are:

  • Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) (Foundation skills)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) skills
  • Communication / Virtual collaboration / Social intelligence
  • Learning agility / Information literacy / Intellectual autonomy and self-management (adaptability)
  • Managerial / Leadership.

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested skills by employers in the sector were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Descent and communication skills. The most advertised occupations were Aboriginal Health Worker, followed by Aboriginal Mental Health Worker. The top employers were the New South Wales Government and the Government of Western Australia.

According to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast, the health care environment in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers work has been experiencing several challenges which are impacting workforce skill requirements and which, in summary, include:

  • A lack of career progression opportunities
  • Government policy and legislation changes
  • Skills and workforce supply shortages and the need to increase the number of entrants to the sector.

The absence of a robust career progression framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker roles is shifting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers towards job opportunities outside the health sector, where there are perceived greater career progression opportunities. Currently, the tertiary education system structure is inflexible for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers to easily transition into formally accredited health professions. For instance, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers report frustration regarding a lack of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), which inhibits qualifying for certain courses or gaining unit exemptions for certain degrees. A lack of professional development incentives is also an issue impeding career progression (and retention) across the sector. Putting in place mechanisms to enable more flexible career pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers at the tertiary education stage and onwards can create better job prospects and assist with the retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers within the health sector.

In 2015 the Victorian Government established a Royal Commission into Family Violence. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially women and children, are disproportionately affected by family violence and face unique barriers to obtaining assistance. Family violence is a leading contributor to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removal, homelessness, poverty, poor physical and mental health, drug and alcohol misuse and incarceration. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers are in a unique position to identify and respond to family violence. The Commission made a range of recommendations to improve health sector responses, through strengthened screening and risk assessment procedures, greater workforce training and development, and better coordination and information sharing between different parts of the health care system.

Each Australian state and territory has its own legislation regarding working with medication, including administration and management. Workers are bound by this legislation when working in the respective state or territory. There are significant variations between these pieces of legislation that can restrict Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners from developing the full scope of practice.

For instance, to qualify for registration as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioner with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), a person must complete the qualification HLT40213 - Certificate IV in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Practice, which includes the core unit HLTAHW020 - Administer medications. Due to varying state and territory legislation, this core unit acknowledges that assessment should take place “in the workplace, unless state or territory legislation prevents practice in the workplace”. Where state or territory legislation prevents practice in the workplace, simulated assessment environments may be used in lieu. Due to these varying legislative requirements, not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners are able to develop the full scope of practice in a workplace setting, and as a result are faced with barriers to registration with AHPRA as well as to employment and service delivery. It is important to establish opportunities in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker students/graduates can develop the full scope of their practice in a workplace setting.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Strategy was developed to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were at the heart of driving processes and service delivery outcomes that best meet the needs of individuals with a disability, their families and carers. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers play a significant role in these communities, and the continued roll-out of the NDIS across the country will impact the ways in which workers engage with and support the complex and multi-levelled needs of individuals.

Australia's health care system is facing significant challenges, including an ageing population and health workforce; a growing burden of chronic disease; people experiencing a disability; and an increased demand for health services, particularly for complex and long-term care. To face these challenges, it is especially critical for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care workforce to plan both for now and the future. Skills shortages are particularly challenging in regional locations, where the skills and the supply of workers are not meeting current demand. If this shortage continues, further issues across the sector may arise, compromising its ability to support and treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients in the community and the ability to maximise patient outcomes. There is a low uptake of vocational and education and training (VET) qualifications in this field which is a contributing factor to the supply shortages across the country.

In the journal article A National Profile of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, 2006–2016, the authors analysed data on Indigenous Health Workers from three waves of the Australian Census (2006, 2011 and 2016). The research findings highlight pressing concerns regarding the lack of growth and the ageing workforce of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers. The authors remain concerned that little is being done to increase the retention and recruitment of this workforce. They state that greater effort is needed to improve the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, particularly for younger age groups and males, and recommend a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategy be implemented.

There is some evidence of governments trialling new initiatives. For example, in March 2019 the Victorian Minister for Mental Health issued a press release, Traineeships Boost Aboriginal Mental Health Professionals, announcing the Andrews Labor Government initiative to boost the number of Aboriginal Health Workers in the mental health system with ten new trainees placed in health services across the state. The $3.5 million Aboriginal Mental Health Traineeship Program was rolled out at eight locations where trainees will learn on the job while they undertake their tertiary studies in mental health. The program is just one part of the Labor Government's plans to improve the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal Victorians. A further $4.9 million is being invested to help build the Aboriginal mental health workforce, supporting a number of new, senior Aboriginal clinical and therapeutic positions in Aboriginal community-controlled health services. The traineeship program and the new Aboriginal clinical and therapeutic positions complement four Aboriginal mental health demonstration projects, operating in four locations across the state. The demonstration projects are testing new service models for Aboriginal Victorians with mental illness and other complex health and social needs. Additional funding of $4 million was allocated in the 2018–2019 Victorian Budget to support these projects for another 12 months.

Links and resources

Below is a list of industry-relevant organisations and associations. Hyperlinks have been included where available.

Government departments and agencies

ACT Health

Australian Government Department of Health

Northern Territory Government Department of Health

NSW Health

Queensland Health

SA Health

Tasmanian Government Department of Health

Victoria Government Department of Health and Human Services

Western Australia Government Department of Health

Peak and industry associations

Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of New South Wales (AH&MRC)

Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia (AHCSA)

Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA)

Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT)

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC)

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)

Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation trading as Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC)

Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO)

Health professionals’ organisations

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA)

Employee associations

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF)

Health Services Union (HSU)

United Workers Union

Regulators

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia

Relevant research

A National Profile of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, 2006–2016 – Alyson Wright, Karl Brescoe and Ray Lovett

Aboriginal Health Workers Leaving the NT Industry, Despite High Indigenous Population – Emilia Terzon

Traineeships Boost Aboriginal Mental Health Professionals – Martin Foley, Victorian Minister for Mental Health [press release]

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment, 2018, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal:

  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2023
    • 4115 Indigenous Health Workers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Employed persons by occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), Sex, State and Territory, August 1986 onwards 6291.0.55.003 - EQ08, viewed 1st November 2018 http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/6291.0.55.003May%202018?OpenDocument

  • Employed total by ANZSCO 4 digit occupations, 2000 to 2018, May quarter
    • 4115 Indigenous Health Workers.                                                                                  

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training package or qualifications:

  • HLT Health Training Package
    • HLT20113 - Certificate II in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT21307 - Certificate II in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT21312 - Certificate II in Aboriginal and-or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT30113 - Certificate III in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT33207 - Certificate III in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT33212 - Certificate III in Aboriginal and-or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT40113 - Certificate IV in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT40213 - Certificate IV in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Practice
    • HLT43907 - Certificate IV in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care (Practice)
    • HLT44007 - Certificate IV in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health (Community Care)
    • HLT50113 - Diploma of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
    • HLT50213 - Diploma of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Practice
    • HLT52107 - Diploma of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care (Practice)
    • HLT52207 - Diploma of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health (Community Care)

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 program enrolments
  • 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill-sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document. 

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

HLT Health Training Package apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2017 commencements
  • 2010 to 2017 completions 
  • 2017 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2017 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2018, Labor Insight Real-time Labor Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2018, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2015 and June 2018 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

ANZSCO occupations have been used as industry filters because they provide more relevant job vacancy data for this sector.

  • Generic skills / Occupations/Employers
    • 4115 Indigenous Health Workers.
Updated: 31 Mar 2020
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