Building Partnerships in Aged Care
Warrigal is a community-owned aged care service provider in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands of NSW and in central and southern Canberra. As well as successfully developing its own workforce, they’re committed to helping address aged care and disability workforce challenges across their region.
The imperative to engage
Mark Sewell is CEO of Warrigal, a national director of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and a member of a regional Industry Workforce Action Group.
Organisational Development Manager, Lish Lawrence, oversees Warrigal’s centralised training and development functions. She manages recruitment and training pathways, and the upskilling of existing staff.
Warrigal is committed to developing strong partnerships with RTOs to train, upskill and recruit new workers and address the workforce challenges faced by the sector.
“There are service providers that have reduced their service offering. There are beds that can’t be filled. There are beds that have not been built because [employers] are frightened about the workforce challenge. They know they can’t meet the need. They know they can’t get enough applicants. They know they can’t get enough people trained. So we know we’re reliant on RTOs to have a pathway of training and development for us. If we can go and find new people, then they need to be trained. And we know from the Royal Commission report that it’s likely Cert III will be a mandatory qual very soon, and we’ll need to partner with training providers to meet our compliance requirements.”
Working with RTOs
When Lish first started in her role she was inundated with offers from training providers. But her preference was to build relationships with just a few reputable RTOs. Warrigal looks for RTOs who really understand the aged care sector and its constraints, and aims to develop reciprocal, respectful relationships.
“Both the vocational educational sector and aged care are complex… You need people who can quickly work it out through a trusted partnerships over some regular phone calls, rather than long explanatory sessions between people that don’t know each other.”
They like to work with RTOs whose values align with theirs. As a trusted, local not-for-profit provider, they typically partner with not-for-profit RTOs.
“… our partnerships are mostly with trusted charities and public service agencies who are committed to communities. It’s like an ethos of partnerships as well as an ethos of our own services… When you’ve got this 10-year partnership to train your workforce or find applicants who are on a training pathway, that’s a daily partnership that needs to be a pretty good cultural fit.”
To establish the relationship, Warrigal invests time getting to know RTO staff and sharing what’s happening in the organisation, what the work needs are and how things are changing. During this phase, they have regular face to face meetings.
“I probably spent the first year building relationships, and having those RTOs really understand Warrigal’s needs at that time, but also, years down the track, and talking about those future needs is really important… In the early days I used to meet with RTOs almost on a fortnightly basis, face-to-face… We shared our challenges, they shared theirs, and then we worked through issues to come to a resolution.”
RTOs often come onsite to deliver training and assessment, such as manual handling. This allows students to learn on the personal care aids equipment that Warrigal uses, to have an interactive learning experience and to see what working in aged care is like.
“… there’s nothing quite like being inside an aged care home, having your classes in our rec rooms and seeing an older person’s room, … to see what an aged care staff team is like… how multicultural it is, how female it is, how many part-timers there are, the kind of record-keeping that’s required on electronic devices, and so on.”
Benefits of long-term relationships
Warrigal recognises there are many benefits to long-term engagement with RTOs.
- The RTOs they work with are willing to go out of their way for Warrigal, delivering beyond what’s normally expected. And Warrigal reciprocates by, for example, giving first preference for student placements, helping with media and good news stories, attending classrooms to talk to students, giving advice from an employer perspective. Their relationships are mutually beneficial.
“… it is through our effective relationships that we’ve established with some key RTOs that enable us to deliver some really good outcomes for our staff… The partnership is more than just business-to-business. It’s really an embedded, collaborative partnership.”
- Warrigal stays abreast of changes in the VET sector and how these impact RTOs. RTOs often seek feedback from Warrigal on things like changes to qualifications.
- RTOs often let Warrigal know of relevant funding opportunities, enabling them to apply for help to resource initiatives such as mentoring for marginalised students.
- RTOs develop programs that are tailored to industry needs. If training programs are developed without engaging with aged care providers, the model often doesn’t fit what employers require.
Focusing on the big picture
Lish believes that openness and transparency are important to resolving the inevitable issues and challenges that come up.
“… we’re very respectful and professional. If there’s an issue, we don’t point fingers, we just look to resolve issues… we openly talk about it and then we talk collectively from both sides as to how we can resolve some things. We’ve had plenty of issues, but we’ve always, just through our professional relationship, been able to resolve them. Even now we have a meeting every month with the RTO staff just about student placements, because that’s a continuing challenge, so we are working with them to collectively try and resolve some of those challenges that are presenting.”
Warrigal’s approach to workforce development is garnering results. While it’s not without its challenges, they’re focused on the big picture and the benefit to the aged care and disability workforce across the whole region. This mindset helps them to stay focused on solutions and outcomes, also in their relationships with RTOs.
“It’s always about thinking about the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve and how we can work together to achieve those outcomes, essentially.”