Immense growth is on the way for the disability services sector – and with it, big changes to the make up of organisations carrying out such vital work.

A 2013 move to a nationally consistent National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is the catalyst for this transformation. There are now about 500,000 NDIS participants and is projected to grow to over 800,000 by 2030.

With this growth in demand for services comes the need for a more skilled workforce. It’s a workforce that will be needing a lot of support – something that Rowan Lennox of Northcott, a not-for-profit disability service provider, is working with AGSM Executive Education to proactively address.

Northcott offers support for people with disability – everything from suitable housing and in-home assistance to workforce training, therapy and more across NSW and the ACT.

Rowan is Northcott’s General Manager of Early Childhood Services. As a Partner in the Community delivering the NDIS across Western Sydney, Hunter New-England, Mid North Coast and Northern NSW, his team of 200 staff offers support to more than 11,000 children aged 0-6 with developmental concerns, delays or disability. The staff work with families to develop personalised assistance programs and provide access to community services.

Rowan’s role, which includes the strategic deployment and building of the team, gives him a unique perspective of the changing care landscape.

“The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) says the sector needs about 83,000 new workers by 2024 which is a 31% increase in the size of the workforce,” Rowan says. “We’re already seeing that need – it’s a constant challenge to bring in enough staff and give them the training and support they need to then care for our customers.”

Rowan says it’s more important than ever to develop emerging leaders who can guide the incoming wave of workers.

“You can’t just rely on finding experienced, qualified people to step straight into these roles,” he says. “It’s simply not feasible to meet the demand.”

“We need to find smart, capable people with potential who are the right cultural fit for Northcott. People have always been at the centre of our organisation, and those who choose to work for Northcott share our purpose of building an inclusive society.”

Here’s how Northcott worked with AGSM to develop and strengthen leaders in the Early Childhood Services team, to effectively onboard the new wave of workers that are expected in the sector.

See also: How can private insurance help fund Australia's aged care?

Looking outside for help on leadership

Northcott has always emphasised leadership development in the past. But something wasn’t quite clicking.

“We’ve often leaned on the 70-20-10 model of learning development – 70% on-the-job learning, 20% working and talking with others and 10% improvement through courses and training,” Rowan says.

That final 10% was missing the mark. Recently elevated leaders at Northcott told Rowan that existing course and training options weren’t impactful enough.

“We needed to look outside of Northcott for exposure to a broader range of experiences and more specialised leadership focus.”

When Rowan spoke to colleagues about their leadership training experiences, one name kept coming up.

“The feedback on AGSM’s different programs was consistently positive,” he says. “It was all about the experience and backgrounds of the course facilitators, and the relevance of course content.

“It was current, with a focus on contemporary research, trends and theory, not things that were popular 40 years ago.”

See also: Tackling unconscious bias through education and opportunity

Building a new Northcott – starting with leaders

Since 2021, Northcott has used the AGSM Executive Education program to shape the organisation’s next generation of leaders.

The group’s first AGSM experience was a tailored version of the Emerging Leaders Program short course that the business school delivered in-house for members of the Early Childhood Services team. This included Northcott Team Leaders (the frontline supervisors), staff who had recently stepped into a managerial role for the first time, and others from the broader team with identified leadership potential.

Before training started, Rowan worked with AGSM Adjunct Faculty Saul Brown to ensure the course was relevant. Saul’s decade-plus experience as an organisational consultant and coach brought that broader experience and specialised leadership focus Rowan and his team needed.

Northcott team Northcott / supplied

“We talked in-depth about our business, how we operate and what areas of development were the most important to focus on,” Rowan says.

One of the main takeaways was the need to develop a strategic decision-making framework for Northcott leaders.

“We talked through a major strategic choice we had recently made and broke down in detail what went into making that choice,” Rowan says. “Tailoring the lessons around tangible examples made it easy for our people to understand how to implement the framework in the real world.”

Embarking on lifelong leadership learning

The in-house program was exactly what Northcott was looking for. But developing leadership skills isn’t simply a box to tick.

“A lot of our people were just starting their leadership journey,” Rowan says. “They needed to learn that being a good leader is a skill you need to continually work on.”

A week after the Emerging Leaders Program, Rowan and three other more senior managers attended the General Manager Program short course. Others in the Early Childhood Services team have also continued their leadership learning with courses such as Women in Leadership, Authentic Communicator and  Change Management.

Northcott continues to engage AGSM about in-house courses for both emerging and senior leaders. A number of staff members with individual leadership development goals are enrolled in AGSM’s public courses.

And according to Rowan, there are plans to continue this support of staff stepping into leadership roles for the first time. This support will be achieved by completing programs with AGSM – in particular with the Emerging Leaders program.

Rowan says about 50 of his staff have taken courses online or in-person, with many completing more than one. He’s noticed “a big culture shift” with more self-directed learning and confidence in sharing ideas.

“After the courses our people are always brimming with ideas and plans for implementing them into their everyday roles,” Rowan says. “That’s a key measure of success – that motivation to keep learning and growing and applying what they’re learning.

“To see that forward momentum coming from the ground up, that’s a really healthy sign that we’re on the right track.”

He points to a new supervision policy and framework suggested by an AGSM course participant. It encompasses line management, reflective practice and learning and developing that’s being rolled out across his entire team.

Rowan expects that impact to continue thanks to Northcott’s continuing work with AGSM.

“We’re really keen, as we continue to identify and develop new leaders, to keep partnering with AGSM to support our team’s ongoing development. And it’s not just for people taking on their first leadership role, but also supporting current leaders as they step into even higher positions.”

Rowan says the impact of the courses filters through the entire organisation.

“When the team sees you’re invested in their growth as leaders and their career development, it translates into better engagement with the organisation and our frontline staff – the ones on the ground offering support to those who need it.”

To learn more about AGSM’s globally-ranked Executive Education Programs, click here.

To learn more about AGSM’s bespoke tailored learning solutions, click here.  

To find out more about AGSM @ UNSW Business School, click here.