Training in soft skills benefit service technicians

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It’s no secret that some sites need to be managed more sensitively than others. Hospitals and schools, for example, require an empathetic and thoughtful approach. And there is no more sensitive site than an aged care facility, where residents may become confused as service providers and maintenance workers traipse in and out of what is, fundamentally, their home.

National mechanical services contractor, AE Smith recognised that some of its service technicians were reluctant to work in aged care facilities because they felt confronted and stressed, particularly when dealing with residents affected by dementia.

In some cases, the staff were exposed to confronting difficult situations caused by verbal abuse or cases where elderly residents offered to help technicians do the job by climbing ladders and using their tools. Needless to say, the staff were unprepared to respond appropriately in such unexpected situations created by well-meaning residents affected by dementia.

Risk management
The company decided that it was imperative that its staff were offered special training so that the technicians were able to work confidently, comfortably and safely in such an environment. To begin, AE Smith recognised several risks associated with service providers working in aged care facilities:

  • the psychological and physical safety of residents
  • how carers deal with incidents and the time it takes to manage this, and
  • potential scrutiny from families or residents, the broader community or media.

It was apparent that the best risk management solution was training that increased awareness and understanding of dementia, as well as equipping service technicians with the knowledge of what are appropriate responses and actions to take when it comes to communication and managing the work within an aged care environment.

So the company turned to Leading Aged Service Australia – Victoria (LASA Victoria) to develop targeted training for AE Smith service technicians. LASA Victoria is the peak body for aged care in Victoria, and the united voice for providers and other organisations associated with aged and community care.

Understanding the audience
The first step in the training was to understand the audience – and this wasn’t the normal training demographic for LASA Victoria. This was a large group of typically young men and women, unfamiliar with the world of aged care.

The organisation started by listening to the stories and experiences of the service staff in order to better understand what the challenge was and how to formulate a plan of action. These conversations were integral to developing appropriate training, at a level the young men and women could understand and relate to.

There were three key learning objectives of the training:

  • Understanding how dementia affects the brain:

While people working in aged care already knew how dementia affects the brain, the AE service staff lacked a deep understanding of this subject. The training needed to correct this in order to equip each service technician with the knowledge to help them better relate to aged care residents.

  • Understanding the behaviours of a person with dementia:

A vital component of the training was to give context to some of the experiences these technicians were having with residents – thereby increasing their emotional sensitivity and helping them avoid being fazed by what they might see.

  • Communication:

The service technicians needed training to communicate easily with residents, particularly those affected by dementia, and to exhibit appropriate behaviour in a residential age care setting.

LASA Victoria engaged trainer Dr Sue Aberdeen to deliver the training, recognising her ability to engage with the audience and use humour as a way of easing the embarrassment around discussing experiences in aged care.


Positive results
So far, 75 AE Smith service technicians throughout the country have successfully completed the LASA Victoria training, which was titled ‘Age Care Fundamentals – Working with the Elderly’. The company has already recorded vast improvements in the way its staff engage with aged care clients.

“Our service technicians are asking for more information,” says Graeme Stewart, AE Smith’s general manager in Western Australia. “They’re aware of communication challenges and how to assist, and they’re scheduling work differently to reduce safety risks.”

And reports from the service technicians themselves have been nothing but positive. “The most valuable thing I took away from the training,” says Joel Tebbenhoff, service supervisor in Perth, “was teaching yourself to put yourself in the residents’ shoes.

“You are coming into their house, so to speak. When I go into an aged care facility now, if I am working in a resident’s room, I actually introduce myself to the resident. Whereas before I just went to the facility care manager, told them what I was doing and said nothing to the resident,” he says.

“If I am entering a resident’s bedroom, I knock until I get a response,” says Kane Thompson, a Perth-based service technician. “Then I enter the room with a smile and make a connection with the resident before I look at their air-conditioner.”

“If a resident is verbally aggressive, I try to distract them to lighten the mood,” says Ashley Peterson, a service technician based in Sydney, “like bringing up something in the room, such as a photo or bunch of flowers.”

Meanwhile, Brightwater Care Group, a Western Australia-based client of AE Smith, is comfortable in the knowledge that its mechanical services contractor understands the environment in which it operates and the challenges of working in an occupied site, and can provide a good cultural fit. Brightwater specialises in providing residential, rehabilitation and community care for older people and people with disabilities, particularly those with high support requirements.

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