How postgraduate study can keep you one step ahead of your industry

As the community services industry grows and changes, we explore how higher education can bring you up to speed.

New advancements are transforming our ways of working - and the community services sector needs to keep pace. But as changing demographics and changing technologies pose new challenges, new opportunities emerge. In this piece, we look at how higher education is responding to these challenges.

Fill the gaps within a growing field

With young people seeking help at an extraordinary rate, workers are experiencing challenges in meeting the high demand for services. According to a Headspace report, nearly 32 per cent of young Australians are reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress – that’s a 23 per cent increased since 2007.

Young people are at their most vulnerable between the ages 18 and 24 as they face many life challenges, including transitioning from school to study or work, moving out of home, and relationship troubles.

Dr Paul Badcock, a senior lecturer from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Youth Mental Health, stresses the unique needs of young people.

“There are very rapid changes in society that are affecting them directly,” says Dr Badcock. “The teenage years are peak periods for the onset for mental illness, so there's a drive towards early intervention.”

As the community services sector evolves rapidly, social workers are also in demand. Associate Professor Ralph Hampson, senior lecturer on social work, says further education can allow workers to discover new ways of thinking and behaving, and that this can create positive community change, particularly for Australia’s ageing population.

“The biggest employer in the future will be the community services industry as the population ages and the National Disability Insurance Scheme rounds out,” he explains. “We're going to see an increasing number of citizens interacting with human service organisations or community services.”

The technological transformation

Technology is increasingly being used to enhance practice and efficiency, as well as improve the accessibility of services.

“Technological diversity is a bit of a double-edged sword,” says Dr Badcock. “Social media could be particularly detrimental, particularly for feelings of rejection or cyber bullying.”

But he notes that changing technology is also having a positive impact on how young people access mental health services.

“There's some evidence that young people prefer to have the option [to use online resources]," says Dr Badcock. "It gives them the liberty to choose the environment in which they're receiving their care.”

Online innovations are also particularly effective in rural and remote situations. "If someone has social anxiety and doesn't want to leave the house, they can engage with a therapist face to face in an online facility like Headspace,” explains Dr Badcock.

The evolution of online study

With new technology come new ways of learning. While advancements in the community services sector help provide convenient, customised services, web-based tools can be just as beneficial for practitioners.

As Dr Badcock puts it, “One of the mandates of our courses being fully online is to provide complete access and to not disadvantage practitioners who are working in remote communities where there is a need for mental health services.”

“Online teaching has really changed, because we now have far more stable platforms and internet connections,” says Professor Hampson, who reflects on his time studying a decade ago. “When I did this ten years ago, the system crashed out when you were trying to have a discussion. The University of Melbourne has invested in producing really high-end technology.”

Professor Hampson also highlights how the University of Melbourne’s online social work courses are offered part-time - making them “ideal for someone who is currently working or juggling careers and families”.

Further study pays dividends

A postgraduate community services course provides practitioners with the opportunity to improve their ways of working to create meaningful positive change.

“The best mental health workers are those who stay up to date with the latest research," says Dr Badcock. "Not only best practice and clinical approaches, but also theories of development and the science behind mental illness."

Professor Hampson believes the University of Melbourne’s social work courses equip students with the ability to acquire skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they’ve learned. “The subjects are focused on the latest evidence and thinking, which are related to how you might use them in your workplace,” he says.

Designed in collaboration with industry experts, the University of Melbourne’s postgraduate community services courses are a chance for students to not only future-proof their career, but also further their passion for social justice. After all, we never stop learning – by familiarising yourself with the latest research, techniques and ways of thinking, you’ll be able to provide the best possible service for your clients.

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