Workforce Development Project

Occupational Therapy Workforce Development Project

Here at OTA, we know there are significant workforce challenges and opportunities for our profession.

To address these challenges, we've developed the OTA Occupational Therapy Workforce Plan.

It was devised using an evidence-based approach which included a literature review, an analysis of OT workforce data, a survey of Australian occupational therapists, interviews and focus groups.

The plan focuses on seven key priorities and three cross cutting themes.

 

Documents and Reports

  • Workforce Development Project Summary Report
    Download the OTA Workforce Development Project Summary Report here.

  • Workforce Development Project Data Report
    Download the Workforce Development Project Data Report log in (member only).

  • Workforce Development Project Operational Plan Summary
    Download the OTA Workforce Development 3-5year Operational Plan log in (member only).


 

Plan Development

The OTA Occupational Therapy Workforce Plan was developed using an evidence-based approach, including extensive consultation with the profession. It included:

A literature review examined over 300 articles from national and international scholarly and grey literature.

A data analysis examined data available from national databases concerning the occupational therapy workforce, including workforce demographics and distribution.

A survey of occupational therapists with 2,145 responses. Responses were broadly representative of the profession with respect to age, geographic location and field of practice.

20 interviews: six preliminary and 14 structured interviews.

 

10 focus groups with representation from the private practice/private group practice, rural and remote, public health, education, mental health, aged care, paediatrics and disability sectors and new graduate and five year graduate cohorts within the workforce

Survey quick facts

66% were working in a metropolitan area, 42% in a regional area and 32% were in rural or remote areas. 

 

48.5% worked in a clinical role. 39.4% worked in a mixed clinical/nonclinical role.

  

15 respondents identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

 

92% of the sample identified as female.

 

 

Key Priorities

What you told us:

Clinical placements during training are essential for the development of an OT professional. Many training programs report limited quality placement positions being available for students.

Students approaching graduation are not always aware of the range of benefits and challenges of working in different workplace settings and can find it difficult to decide what is the best workplace for them.

Students would benefit from information around what to expect in their first graduate OT role to assist their transition to practice.

 

Our Objective: Enhance preparation for professional practice for occupational therapy students.

 

What you told us:

Clinical supervision is essential for recently graduated therapists. There is inconsistency in the level and quality of supervision graduates receive.

Recent graduates would benefit from greater access to resources and supports to aid their transitioning to practice.

There is significant variation in the experience of recently graduated OTs. Some graduates report that their early careers are stressful with high work demands and little professional support, others reported feeling well supported and report gaining confidence and professional skills.

Effective transitioning to practice requires strong supervision, challenging professional opportunities undertaken with good support, and a positive workplace culture.

 

Our Objective: Enhance the new graduate experience.

What you told us:

There are recruitment and retention challenges in most practice settings.

Career satisfaction is higher when able to work to full scope of practice and where the workplace is supportive and safe.

Some OT’s move into non-clinical roles that draw upon their OT skills and they wish to maintain their OT identity and connection to the profession while in these positions.

Some OTs believe there is limited opportunity to progress to advanced clinical roles or that professional recognition is not available to them, limiting their career opportunities as an OT.

Recruitment and retention are impacted by a range of factors including remuneration, flexibility and responsiveness of conditions, the availability of support and supervision and opportunities for professional and career advancement.

Some form of credentialing is widely supported as a means of acknowledging advanced standing.

 

Our Objective: Retain experienced occupational therapists in the profession

What you told us:

Major changes in the industry profile (such as the introduction of National Disability Insurance Scheme [NDIS] and My Aged Care) have required changes in the clinical, professional and business management skills required by OTs.

Professional supervision is considered critical for quality assurance, worker support and for the safety and reputation of the profession. Those who reported they receive no supervision have a generally more negative perspective on multiple other indicators. They have a dramatically negative view on the adequacy of supervision structures, team leadership and the availability of professional development. They also report a less positive work/life balance.

The demand for OT services across multiple sectors has placed pressure on established professional training supervision and support structures.

The NDIS represents a challenging working environment for OTs because its commercial requirements can feel in tension with professional values.

There is an absence of quality and safety standards and reporting with respect to OT services provided in the private sector.

Clinical governance is critical to ensure the quality and safety of services.

 

Our Objective: Support a safe practicing environment for occupational therapy.

What you told us:

There was strong support for some form of credentialling of key skills and capabilities for occupational therapists.

Failure to recognise high levels of professional competence can negatively impact on retention of experienced occupational therapists.

Development of capability frameworks was well supported to guide professional development and career progression and protect against unqualified practice.

OTs who are working within their competency and capabilities, report difficulties where professional judgements are second guessed by purchasers and where consumer expectations conflict with clinical judgements.

 

Our Objective: Recognise professional skills and achievements.

What you told us:

Loss of experienced OTs is exacerbated by an absence of advanced clinical roles, inadequate remuneration and inflexibility of working conditions.

Career satisfaction was much lower where the therapist did not believe that they were well remunerated for their work.

Employees in NDIS funded services, other compensable schemes and public health services reported poorer work/life balance than those working in other settings.

There are particular challenges for the OT workforce in rural and remote communities that can in part be addressed by support for training of local students, including First Nations community members, providing better compensation for the costs of rural servicing and developing innovative models that support private OT practice in rural communities.

 

Our Objective: Support viable occupational therapy careers. 

What you told us:

Many therapists are incorporating the use of telehealth into their regular practice.

Developments in technology and Artificial Intelligence present large opportunities in developing efficiencies and enhancing practice but also carry risks if not well understood and used appropriately.

Technology is advancing rapidly, and it can be difficult for occupational therapists to retain currency in their knowledge.

 

Our Objective: Promote digital health capabilities in the profession.

 

 

 

Cross Cutting Themes

1. Enhance understanding of occupational therapy roles and contribution.

Respondents overwhelmingly believed that the role of occupational therapists was not well understood in the community which contributed to feelings of being underutilised and undervalued.

There are significant opportunities for OTs across multiple sectors including NDIS services, acute, rehabilitation and residential aged care, public health services, community aged care, mental health and primary health care including new and emerging roles. The role of OT should be promoted in these areas.

 

2. Build the community of practice of occupational therapists.

Evidence based practice and interprofessional collaboration are identified as priorities in the development of the profession.

Occupational therapists highly value opportunities to connect with one another to provide personal and professional support and exchange knowledge.

Feelings of belonging and strong professional identity can support career satisfaction and resilience.

 

3. Enhance occupational therapist wellbeing.

Occupational therapists have personal and professional support needs that vary across the career span and at different life stages.

High levels of stress and burnout were reported within the profession.

The greatest risk to the profession identified in the survey responses was unsustainable workloads.

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