Questions about the costs and practicalities associated with providing training and skill development activities for support staff have been raised by many providers in recent months.  Where providers have transitioned into the NDIS, the pressure appears to be even greater, particularly in situations where training support staff to provide personal care and support in a professional manner may not have been a priority in the past.  Within the NDIS Quality Indicator Guidelines, increased attention has been placed on the competency of staff to address complex support needs such as complex bowel care, tracheostomy care, ventilator management and complex wound care to people with disabilities.  As a result, services are now expected to demonstrate that their staff can professionally and capably provide these complex types of supports during their daily work routines.

Effective training is generally accompanied by assessing and reviewing people’s comprehension and competence as they go about performing their role. To do this well, other staff who know how to assess people on the job and who have the qualifications to assess what is needed to perform complex tasks are often needed to ensure staff meet best practice requirements.  When service providers focus on results that can be derived from training, there are many opportunities for building capability for individual staff and positive outcomes are often apparent for the ‘customer’ – in this case, people with disabilities. However, it would be fair to say that training people for the sake of training is not guaranteed to create the required results.  While some staff take a ‘ho hum’ approach to training and consider it an easy time-out from their work, other staff genuinely value the opportunity to learn new skills and to apply them in their work.  I believe that one of the critical jobs for managers is to ensure training is valued by the service as well as to eliminate disinterest and apathy about learning the required skills and knowledge from the service’s psyche.

In my own situation, I have owned a registered training organisation that provided qualifications for disability support workers in the past.  As a result of this work, I have a sound appreciation for both the strengths and weaknesses associated with standard training delivery and ensuring staff are competent to perform their role.  In the service that I have in place for my severely disabled daughter who lives with quadriplegia as well as multiple forms of epilepsy, is blind and unable to speak, I have ensured her team have had continued access to training and on-the-job support over many years and I have been vigilant in ensuring mandatory training is provided at least annually. This has been effective in most cases and I have seen the team go from being unconsciously incompetent to now being unconsciously competent with their support duties.

I have also lived through a disturbing situation where one staff member demonstrated that she had no idea what critical incidents were.  When I asked this staff member about the training provided to her over the previous four years that she had been with my company, she confided that she often ‘zoned out’ because she didn’t really see the point of the training content and was often more concerned about being away from her family when she attended training days.  At the time, I felt quite ill thinking of this staff member’s apparently blasé approach to situations that could quickly devolve into a life or death experience for my daughter. Even though training and ongoing follow-up support had been provided to this staff member on a number of occasions, she expressed no apparent insight into what this would mean to my daughter if something of a critical nature occurred on her shift.

This staff member’s approach to such an important topic was a really important reminder to me about what people may value or take away from training.  At the time, I wondered if my approaches with focusing on quality care and person-centred support that are also safe, timely, effective and efficient had missed the possibility that I – and to some extent, the training and on-the-job support – had left this staff member behind in some way.  This led to a deep review of daily data and analysing the work to make sure that what I was expecting in the way of practical support activities did not leave some fundamental requirements out, simply because I could not see them.  However, while the review indicated that this was a particular situation for this staff member, it was also a timely reminder for me to make sure I don’t make any assumptions about what people take away from training or how training content needs to be applied throughout any particular shift.

In my work, I have seen services that do a great job ensuring staff have access to ongoing training and on-the-job assessment and reviews, while others struggle with making training a priority.  Yes, training and strategies for ensuring staff know what they need to do on-the-job are a cost to the business, yet we are also seeing more pressure being put on services to make sure staff are competent and able to demonstrate they can successfully address the requirements of the people with disabilities they support.  Assuming people can do the job after one training session or viewing of an online e-learning module just won’t cut it anymore.  As we progress further into the NDIS arena, the expectation will be on services stepping up and demonstrating what a difference competent staff can make in the lives of people with disabilities, not only now but well into the future as well.

Thinking ahead:

1. What are the benefits for your service when training and on-the-job assessments and review of staff capabilities are in place?  What possible impacts could occur if training and capability reviews are not in place or are being conducted on a random basis?

2. What does our sector need to do to intrinsically motivate staff to keep improving and take pride in doing a great job supporting people with disabilities, when people are not given the opportunity to learn and refine their skills and knowledge in the first place?

3. What do we know about the experiences of people with disabilities when training and competency of workers are not viewed as a significantly important function for the service?