Speech Pathology Skills Shortage – Where’s the Plan?

It was great to see a solid commitment in the Tasmanian State Budget for literacy, but we all know that Speech and Language Pathologists are key to supporting literacy development in schools. Providing all schools with more access to Speech Pathologists would not only greatly help children with communication and reading difficulties, but also provide essential support to teachers in the all-important task of reading instruction. Literacy is power.

We have a big problem in Tasmanian primary schools, with 25% of Speech and Language Pathologist positions statewide sitting vacant. That is not good enough. The establishment FTE falls considerably short to begin with, so we simply can’t afford to have positions vacant.

So what does this mean for Tassie schools and the dedicated speechies who work for DoE?

  • It means children are waiting longer for assessments or missing out altogether.
  • It means speechies are dealing with workload pressures and have limited career progression opportunities.
  • It means students in high school don’t have access to a Speech Pathologist at all, unless there is a serious clinical need. This causes untold distress for kids and families alike, and many will slip through the cracks before we can reach them.

By failing to address this issue in the Budget, the Tasmanian Government have demonstrated that they don’t have a plan to address recruitment, retention or workload issues.  

The Government will say there are skills shortages but let’s break down the facts:

Graduate numbers in Australia have increased from 2018 to an estimated 30% by 2021. Given the 37.5% increase in program offerings between 2020 and 2022, more significant increases in graduates are expected into the future, particularly in 2023 and 2024. We need DoE to step up and ensure there is a plan to attract these graduates to our State Service.

Speech pathology program enrolments have increased by 89% between 2018 and 2021. Furthermore, substantial increases are expected in future years, given the planned commencement of programs in 2022-2024. We need DoE to plan how to support student placements to make it a positive experience for both workers and students.

Career progression is limited in DoE, and it all comes down to $$$. We often hear that Allied Health Professionals are only be able to move into a higher pay grade role once a more senior colleague leaves. This needs to change if we want the Tasmanian state service to be an attractive place to work.

[Source: Submission from Speech Pathologists Australia to Care Workforce Labour Market Study National Skills Commission, June 2021]

Research has linked oral language and literacy development with long term educational outcomes and employment opportunities. The earlier in life a person accesses intervention, the greater the cumulative benefit. This means speech therapy does not only help people to communicate, but that it also has a positive flow on effect on the economic, social and health of the whole community.

CPSU members are developing an evidence-based Log of Claims for the next agreement, including ensuring that Speech and Language Pathologists are supported, respected and paid fairly for their work. If you haven’t contributed to our PSUWA survey yet, please do so here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/396FMBJ

Do you have a child in a Tasmanian public school and are currently awaiting an assessment? Let us know.

At the CPSU, we work each and every day to stand up for the public services all Tasmanians rely on, and to improve the working conditions of those who deliver those services. Please contact your Organiser, Jess Greene, if you have any suggestions for the Log of Claims – we want to advocate for you so you have a fulfilling career and so we can ensure kids get the best start in life.

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