Sunday, March 22, 2009

The learning needs of aged care and community staff in rural Queensland

Chinchilla Learning Network Centre

This week I was able to meet aged and community care staff in some rural communities of Queensland. This was with the aim of promoting the eMentoring project that I am implementing on behalf of Aged Care Queensland.

Challenges facing health care staff in rural context
I met with a variety of staff and roles at Miles, Roma, Chinchilla and Dalby. These places range from two to six hours drive west from Brisbane.

View Larger Map

The one thing I have come to realize from just this short trip is that unless you have driven around Queensland, you have no real idea of how vast the state is, or the problems that face people with regards to accessing professional development and support opportunities because of geographical isolation.

What staff need and want from eMentoring
There was a mixed reaction to the eMentoring project from people. On the one hand, there is acknowledgment of the great need for support for people that is not readily available on a face-to-face level, because of the physical distances staff have to travel. One theme was the incresing number of people taking on management roles who have little or no experience or preparation, and who need mentoring support.

At the same time, it is vital for the industry that experienced staff share their knowledge and skills with junior colleagues before they retire, and that industry knowledge is not lost to the younger generation.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for the online communication aspect of the eMentoring project amongst staff in Roma. They are used to having to think laterally about everything they do - their motto is "not difficult, but different" - I just LOVE that way of looking at the world.

$6 water melon bought at Miles

Barriers to eMentoring

At the same time, the old chestnut about time and financial constraint reared its ugly head. One great barrier to taking part in the project was having to go to the two day workshops, even though accommodation and flights are being paid. The challenge of finding staff to cover workloads is huge, by all accounts.

The other barrier is lack of computer skills and the confidence to 'have a go' or to 'play' on the Internet.

Where to from here
What I have noticed as I have gone about the state talking about the project is that there is a lot of interest from senior managerial staff - they recognize the need for mentoring and are keen to share their own skills and experience as mentors. This is very encouraging because without organizational and managerial support, it will be difficult to embed eMentoring as an every day concept.

But the other thing that has been extremely noticeable is that ground level clinical care staff, be they care workers or junior nurses, have been absent from information meetings. What is difficult to make out is the reason for this - whether they are not interested, cannot see a need for mentoring, do not realize the project is for them, or that they just cannot find time to get away from their clinical work to attend the meetings.

Get real
I understand how busy clinical care staff are in aged care, as well as all the other responsibilities and calls they have on their time outside of work. But there comes a time when that excuse becomes a little tired - people have to take responsibility for their development and learning, even if that means doing some of it in their own time. And employers have to look at how they can support staff to take the time to attend workshops. Employers cannot continue to complain about the state of the industry if they do not take action to remedy it.

Do you have any ideas about how to get past the barriers of time and money to implement professional development programs? What has worked for you?

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