Ideas revolution needed for work

JOHN KIRWAN says: I write this piece as I enjoy the last year of a five-year contract as chief executive of the Tasmanian Health Organisation, North and formerly Northern Area Health Service.

John Kirwan.

John Kirwan.

Later this year, the THO will also take over responsibility for mental health services in the region.

When I first started in Launceston in April, 2008 it was as a locum chief executive. I was not intending to stay.

However, the love of the people, the job, the environment and my partner made the decision to call Launceston home an easy one.

My suggestions are all based on what I have seen or researched as successful somewhere else in Australia and internationally, so it is achievable, I would argue even more so in Tasmania.

The fundamental challenge as a community, as parents and as friends, is how we provide a safe, secure environment to work, rest and play.

The key, not surprisingly given more than 30 years in health, is to address what are called the "social determinates of health", in particular those within our control, as individuals, as families and as members of the community.

These include access to education, transport, quality housing, employment opportunities and freedom from discrimination.

Within health this is simplified as a making a fence at the top of the cliff approach, rather than an ambulance at the bottom approach.

Education is the key. It opens doors for higher paid and meaningful employment.

To help all students achieve their potential, I would call for a debate on making grade 12 education and its vocational equivalent compulsory.

I would seek to establish, map and promote employment pathways with opportunities for paid work experience in as many medium-to-large government and non-government organisations willing to participate.

This mapping would result in a clear pathway of occupations against training requirements and improve education and employment articulation within sectors and across sectors.

I would look to develop a "grow your own" model for intergenerational workforce renewal to tackle the ageing workforce.

This would not only address the needs of the "younger" generation but also the "older" generation looking to pass on skills and knowledge acquired over decades in the workforce. At the moment we are at risk of losing wisdom and know-how in a whole range of trades when the current workforce retires.

These pathways should provide specific conduits for disadvantaged groups, to allow maximum participation in the workforce, so we have a workforce that is reflective of the community we serve.

For example, with almost 5 per cent of the Tasmanian population identifying as Aboriginal, how many employers reflect this demographic? Not mine. In fact we do not know how many Aboriginal staff we have.

Our mode of work, hours and even attire are based on 18th and 19th-century systems.

I would promote new models that challenge the traditional and better suit the new generation of worker.

This would allow a blending of work, study and family responsibilities.

The focus on a working life, rather than one job at a time would encourage a more appropriate matching of the needs of the employer and employee.

Underpinning all this is the adoption of a lifetime approach to education, learning, research and reinvestment in the next generation.

We need to deliberately blur the current milestones that seem to me like end points - be it finishing at grade 10 or 12, completing an apprenticeship, or tertiary studies at TAFE or university.

I have seen it work elsewhere like in Singapore where the ACTU saw compulsory occupational superannuation at work and adapted it for Australia, and where public service staff are provided with 10 days compulsory training, of which only five have to be directly work-related.

I would suggest we revisit and relaunch past success stories like English and literacy programs in the workplace and that we insist on ongoing personal and professional development.

None of this is a quick fix. But if we are to move from the lowest socio-economic status in Australia to a position allowing our community to live, work and play to its potential, it is a good place to start.

- JOHN KIRWAN is the Tasmanian Health Organisation's North chief executive officer.


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