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A helping hand up the ladder

Darragh O Keeffe reports on one organisation’s individualised approach to encourage staff training and career progression.

Rae Harrison’s career path is pretty indicative of the can-do attitude that prevails at Villa Maria, the Victorian provider of disability, education and senior services.

Harrison joined the organisation, which supports 5000 people in 42 locations across the state, as a receptionist in 2002. After six months she applied for a position working in administration support in the organisation’s dementia respite centre. After two years there, she was on the move again, taking up the same role in Villa Maria’s community services program. During her time working in administration, Harrison decided to pursue a university qualification in an area of personal interest – a move she says was encouraged by her employer.

“I worked towards obtaining the diploma in community services (welfare studies) during the two and a half years I was working in administration. I had to undertake two work placements as part of my course and I did both in Villa Maria programs. Once I had completed those and finished my studies, I applied for a position as a locum care manager in the community services program.”

After 12 months in that role, a full-time permanent position became available and before long the former receptionist was employed as a permanent care manager.

Harrison says it was no accident she ended up working for Villa Maria. “They have a reputation as an employer where people can work their way up the ladder, and into areas they’re interested in. So I was aware of that when I applied for the receptionist job in the beginning.”

Management was very supportive of Harrison’s decision to work towards the diploma, making training and work placements within the organisation available to her. “I also did a complimentary course in dementia and Villa Maria was supportive through funding and also by providing paid leave during the last modules.”

And the career progression continues. Harrison has since been appointed senior care manager, working in the Eastern community care section. “I have a case load of about 20 clients. I handle the waiting list of new cases and allocate them to the care managers. I’m also responsible for supporting the care managers.”

Harrison’s inspiring career progression is not a fluke. In fact, Villa Maria has developed a learning and development team – consisting of three consultants – to provide an individualised approach to help staff put a career plan in place that allows them to excel. Across the organisation many staff are undertaking dual qualifications in aged care and disability services, training in areas such as frontline management and business leadership.

“Villa Maria is taking a team approach to learning and development, supporting individuals and services to further develop to ensure best practice,” says Darren Mannix, manager of HR and learning. “We pride ourselves on supporting individuals to enhance their skill base. This ensures that industry standards are maintained and contemporary practices are achieved. Each learning and development consultant has a speciality skill base and this diversity of knowledge is shared across the organisation.”

Mannix says with the rich and diverse range of programs, services and roles, there are many career pathways available at Villa Maria.

The learning and development team works in several ways. Individual staff can be referred to them, but they also proactively visit sites, working to promote learning and development opportunities – both individual and worksite specific. The team also distributes relevant external training information and conducts annual training needs analysis across the organisation.

Like Harrison, Lydia Pisevski has had an inspiring career path in Villa Maria. She was fresh out of high school when she joined its Bundoora facility in 2002 as a personal care worker. “I was studying to get my division 1 nursing qualification and I thought it would be a good fit to work part time in an aged care facility.

“As it turned out, I didn’t complete my nursing degree and left university in my second year. That was 2003. I was still working as a personal care worker but I wasn’t overly interested in the work, mainly because I didn’t get to spend much time with the residents.”

By 2005, Pisevski had decided to do a hair dressing course, but chose to continue working part time with Villa Maria. “My manager at the facility said to me; you’d be great in activities. So I started working there three days a week. I knew, straight away, this is where I belong. I come in every morning, bubbly and full of energy. The residents are smiling, I’m smiling. I get to spend more time with the residents.”

Pisevski was able to take a major step up the career ladder when, at the end of 2006, the activities coordinator left Bundoora. “My manager offered me the position. From my experience I was familiar with the paperwork involved and what the role required. So I took the position and that’s where I am today.”

Supported by Villa Maria’s learning and development team, Pisevski last year began studying for a certificate in leisure and lifestyle, which she recently completed. “It was a great experience. I knew a lot of the information, just from working on the job, but it was great to get the theory. It was also great to network and see what other organisations are doing.”

Pisevski now hopes to begin a diploma in diversional therapy. She says she knows her employer will support her. “My manager is just the best. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She’s very encouraging and gives me so much confidence.”

Further education opportunities for staff are actively supported and job opportunities are promoted internally, says Mannix. “We’re committed to staff development, promoting diversity and creating fun, healthy and productive work environments. Staff are encouraged to participate in all aspects of working life and to question and challenge the status quo in order to deliver improved outcomes for people we support.”

Harrison says providers who offer the possibility of career progression will succeed in retaining staff. “It’s important for the girls who work as personal care workers, or for the people who come in through administration. If they are interested in furthering their career they will value an organisation that supports them in doing that. People will stay working for those organisations.”

Training in the bush

Staff education and training in rural and regional areas got a boost recently, with 1400 aged care workers set to benefit from new training places.

The program will provide in depth training courses for personal care workers in nursing homes and hostels in regional Australia.

The places are provided under a new round of the government’s four-year $30 million Support for Aged Care Training program.

Registered training organisations can apply under the round to deliver the training through to June 2010.

“These training courses funded by the government are about supporting the important and valued work undertaken by the hardworking staff in remote nursing homes and hostels,” said minister for ageing Justine Elliot.

The program is intended to assist the services that face major barriers to staff training, due to their size or distance from a training institution.

Assistance can include travel costs, and payment for staff to backfill positions while workers attend courses.

Funding will also be set aside for a national on-line or satellite education resource.

The closing date for application is 8 October.

Other government measures in education and training include funding the diploma in nursing (enrolled nurse qualifications) for residential aged care workers, through the Better Skills for Better Care program; providing scholarships to encourage more people to enter or re-enter aged care nursing, especially in rural and regional areas through the aged care nursing scholarship Scheme; and assisting enrolled nurses to access recognised and approved medication administration training programs.

Information on these programs is available on the department website. Application forms and guidelines for the new round are available at www.health.gov.au

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