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Attracting and retaining workers in regional Victoria

Return to Disability Workforce Innovation Project

Cooinda provides disability services over a vast rural and regional area of south west Victoria.  Physical facilities are based in Terang and Camperdown.  Support is provided to clients from regional towns including Derrinallum, Simpson, Cobden, Timboon, Port Campbell, Garvoc and Mortlake.  This large area means flexibility is paramount to maximising choice and control for their clients.  In this story they share how they are successfully attracting, developing and retaining disability workers in regional Victoria.

Flexibility - Critical to Success!

With the rollout of the NDIS in South West Victoria in October 2017, Cooinda saw the opportunity to diversify the services they provided, whilst identifying the resultant need to increase both workforce capacity and diversity.

Growing their service offerings outside of traditional hours to fulfill client aspirations and needs and deliver on community activities has required them to embed flexibility into their model.  Their engaged, committed, diverse and flexible workforce are providing supports which have been central to their success.

Whilst traditionally a provider of day program and supported accommodation services, the organisation is adapting their existing structures and services.

Changes have included providing new support coordination and plan management services, the exploration of new and different supported accommodation options, and most significantly an increase in demand for customised 1:1 or group based supports outside of the traditional day program structure.

Cooinda has met these challenges with an enhanced range of day program activities offered in Terang and Camperdown with a strong focus on: social and community participation; health and human relationships; living and life skills; art and creativity; education and vocational skill development.

Through their service offering they have  built lasting partnerships and strong engagement within local communities. They have developed a solid reputation for delivering quality locally produced food and coffee at the Little Acorn Café in Terang.    They also offer recycling and waste management services for local events and their products at local market such as, the Cobden Spring Festival, Noorat Show and shops and businesses throughout the district are not to be missed.

The Power of Engagement

The Support Coordination offering has increased  engagement with a diversity of local mainstream, informal and community based networks including local fitness and recreation clubs, allied health and community health services, and supported holiday providers leading to the inaugural Holiday Expo, attended by leading supported holiday providers and open to all participants, their support networks and members of the community.

These new and established networks and partnerships provide a flow on benefit for all participants and community members, particularly in relation to employment.  

Young people are employed doing fun things alongside participants within the local community and this has not gone unnoticed and has had the added benefit of increasing awareness of the disability sector as an attractive, innovative and exciting employment offering amongst locals.

Cooinda  works hard to maintain  a great organisational culture, and word of mouth is a strong driver in small communities and has been a definitive factor in its growing workforce.  They have built strong relationships with training providers such as South West TAFE and GenU Training and as such are providing support for student placements.

They are also engaged with local secondary schools to ensure students develop their awareness and experience of the opportunities for work and a career in disability support. This has resulted in the organisation identifying and attracting new workers into the organisation and the sector.

Emphasis on employee development

Individual’s values and attributes are central to recruitment at Cooinda. Appropriately qualified workers are employed to support those people with complex needs, at present 63 percent of Cooinda’s support workforce have a formal disability qualification.  Of that 63 per cent, 10 percent have a Diploma in either Disability, Community or Education services, 43 percent a Certificate IV in Disability and 10 percent a Certificate III in Individual Support or Aged Care.

The organisation encourages and supports employees to gain a Certificate IV in Disability qualification offered to workers onsite though a partnership with South West TAFE.  They have set itself a target to have 30 percent of the workforce qualified at Certificate III and 70 percent with Certificate IV in Disability and are taking positive measures and establishing effective partnerships to ensure it achieves this goal.

Cooinda also invests in staff development even beyond supporting their workforce to gain a qualification. They provide a diverse range of training, professional development and wellbeing opportunities. Training has included Auslan, Understanding Autism, Stress Management, Bushfire Safety for Workers, Cultural Awareness, MATE training – an education and intervention package to raise awareness about abusive behaviour, medication management and administration, CPR and First Aid updates.

This investment in their people ensures better outcomes for their participants, a supported and skilled workforce and delivers on its mission is to be a builder of a socially inclusive community where people of all abilities are engaged and valued.

Offering diverse work opportunities

New workers are employed on a casual basis across the range of programs, services and supports delivered by Cooinda. This approach allows employees to build their skills and experience across the organisation, providing workers with a diverse range of job roles, and developing a commitment to the organisation as a whole.  It also ensures that the organisation has the flexibility to offer workers a reasonable number of shifts and enough hours to work as often as suits their needs. Team leaders and management readily identifying workers committed to the role and the organisation and these people are offered ongoing contracts further cementing the relationship between employer and employees.

Since 2016 Cooinda has significantly increased its workforce, from 57 to 100 EFT at the end of 2019, with a marked increase in the percentage of young people employed. While they recognise that older workers are essential to the culture and stability of their workforce, they have also enthusiastically responded to the importance of diversity in order to meet the needs of their participants. In 2016, 27 percent of Cooinda’s workforce were aged under 40.  By 2018, this had increased to 52 percent of their workforce, with 4 young people aged under 19 in their employ for the first time.

The organisation reports that they have no trouble in recruiting direct support workers.  While specialist roles such as administration, finance, support coordination, team leader and management positions are advertised, they have no need to advertise for support workers, as potential employees frequently make direct approaches to the organisation for work. The benefits of word of mouth evidenced by this outcome.

With the increase in participants attending programs and existing participants choosing to engage more 1:1 supports, Cooinda have been required to recruit more often, holding interviews every few months and recruiting 10-12 new workers each round.

New workers are interviewed and employed quarterly. This helps to streamline HR processes.  Cooinda have implemented online, self-paced induction programs to support the organisation onboarding new employees.

Staff retention is strengthened by the recognition of the importance of having a supportive and enjoyable workplace culture and the development of networks across the organisation as a whole. Workers are provided with a diverse range of job roles, trained adequately to meet the demands of their work and are offered hours to suits their needs and ongoing contracts to provide certainty.

Workplace culture - The retention key!

Cooinda is providing effective services for its clients, achieving quality employment outcomes for its staff and providing exceptional results for its community all whilst embracing change and delivering results.

Contact information

For more information contact Dianne Hardy, Disability Workforce Innovation Project Lead, 0436 820 088, submit enquiry/feedback