Recruiting Peer Workers

Tim and PeterABOVE: Flourish Australia’s General Manager, Human Resources, Tim Fong (left) and Manager, Peer Workforce Peter Farrugia (right) look pleased with the book ‘Peer Work in Australia: A New Future for Mental health. PHOTO BY WARREN HEGGARTY

By Warren Heggarty

There is now an additional career pathway for people who are interested in becoming Peer Workers. Peer work is a formal job role that requires suitable qualifications and aptitude. Lived experience alone does not qualify you to be a Peer Worker. Flourish Australia has a reputation for being a leader in the field of peer work, and Tim Fong, Flourish Australia’s General Manager of Human Resources, explained how to find the right people for Peer Worker roles. 

“Like any other position, (Peer Workers) need to be able to do the job and meet the essential criteria for the position.” Tim explained. “The commencing classification for a Peer Worker is SCHADS Level 3, because we expect the person to be able to demonstrate that they have suitable knowledge, qualifications and aptitude to perform well in their role.” 

The new pathway

A Certificate IV qualification is a minimum requirement for Peer Workers and Mental Health Workers with Flourish Australia. Recognising that this might be a steep initial jump for some people, Tim says Flourish Australia has created new positions to enable people to gain the necessary knowledge, qualifications and work experience to progress to becoming Peer Workers and Mental Health Workers. With peer work, this includes support with obtaining a Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work qualification.

The main difference between a Peer Worker and a Mental Health Worker is that a Peer Worker is required to use their lived experience of a mental health issue for their job, and they have been trained in how to do so. Peer Workforce Manager Peter Farrugia has developed a one day in-house training program called Peer Work: Using lived experience in the peer space, which provides guidance to Peer Workers on how to use their lived experience appropriately in the workplace. Other than that, Peer Workers and Mental Health Workers are complementary roles. 

“Both positions are treated the same,” says Tim. “There is the same minimum qualification of a Certificate IV, and the new pathway provides the same learning and development opportunities for everyone.”

The book

Last year, Tim was part of the editorial team that produced the book Peer Work in Australia. This book is about the journey of peer work in the Australian mental health sector, and the deeper understanding it shares makes this book arguably the first of its kind in the world.

It is a pioneering book for a pioneering field. 

“The book has been reprinted twice, with little more than word of mouth to publicise it,” says Tim, “so that is a pretty good endorsement!”

This book’s release was timely, as the mental health sector is currently engaged in major reform. The peer work field has matured to the point where it is intersecting with the broader disability sector, providing a new understanding of the value of good, quality peer work. Evidence has shown that peer work is a highly effective intervention tool that allows mental health services to better deliver what’s needed, and so the peer workforce is becoming an increasingly vital component of the mental health sector. It’s playing a key role in bringing about much-needed cultural change in services and workplaces, and paints a bright future for the mental health sector in Australia. 

What better way to learn the whole story of the emergence of peer work than to purchase a copy of Peer Work in Australia? Available through Booktopia, .

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