By Dr Carolyn King, Associate Degree in Applied Health and Community Support course coordinator, UTAS University College 

One in every five new jobs in Australia is in the health care, community development and social assistance sectors.

In Tasmania, 30,000 people are employed in paid work in this industry, with thousands more in informal or voluntary roles.

The three service types with the highest current net growth are community development, ageing and carer services and disability services.

Given that two of these three areas of growth are currently engaged in Royal Commissions, it is an imperative that we seek new approaches for educating people within these roles.

In response to the recognised need in terms of both workforce and education, the University College at the University of Tasmania has developed a two-year Associate Degree in Applied Health and Community Support which was offered for the first time in February this year.

The curriculum was developed following extensive consultation with peak bodies, organisations and individuals within the health, social and community service sectors, who indicated that they were grappling with the effects of significant changes in community needs, service models and consumer expectations, as well as increases in role complexity and projected workforce demands.

In order to support a growing workforce through change and complexity, a number of critical areas of education and skill development were identified.

The first was the need to foster a broad skill base, with the agility and flexibility to cross traditional sectoral boundaries between for example, health, disability, mental health, aged care, and social and community services, whilst ensuring that sector-specific requirements were not lost.

The second was to promote and strengthen self-determination and consumer-led approaches, and increase the focus on health promotion, prevention and community capacity-building.

The third involved the explicit inclusion of transferrable or ‘enterprise skills’ such as critical thinking, reflective and evidence-based practice, health and digital literacy, as well as planning, evaluation and quality improvement.

It was determined that supporting employees to achieve a balance between providing quality services and working within a successful and sustainable business environment, required a curriculum with streams that were people-focused, examining for example, the principles of ethics, inclusivity, diversity, cultural competence and compassion; as well as providing an understanding of the principles and practices of community development, business enterprise, leadership, management and communication.

In its first offering, the course has attracted fifty students from a range of backgrounds, who are studying at campuses in Hobart, Launceston and the Cradle Coast.

Some students have expressed an interest in upskilling in their current roles, others are looking for a career change, while school leavers have seen the course as a way of fast-tracking themselves into a growing workforce and a rewarding career.

The diversity of student backgrounds and life experiences has contributed to deep and rich learning opportunities, while the diversity of input from industry experts promises to keep the course content contemporary, relevant and rewarding for both graduates and employers.

It is hoped that this type of dynamic collaboration between industry and the University of Tasmania’s University College can build confidence and sustainability in an industry currently dealing with significant change and challenges, and effectively support and empower the workforce that supports all Tasmanians.