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Successfully attracting and retaining workers in regional Victoria

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Case Study: Cooinda 

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 case study, they share how they are successfully attracting, developing and retaining disability workers in regional Victoria.

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. 

Increasing flexibility critical

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

Whilst traditionally a provider of day program and supported accommodation services, Cooinda are 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, Cooinda has 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.  A must visit for every coffee buff.  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. 

Recruitment and retention success linked to community engagement

The Support Coordination offering has increased Cooinda’s 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 Cooinda 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 prides itself on having 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. 

Cooinda has 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 Terang High School and Mercy Regional College ensuring students develop their awareness and experience of the opportunities for work and a career in disability support. 

This has resulted in Cooinda 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.

Cooinda prides itself on its encouragement and support of employees to gain a qualification with the Certificate IV in Disability offered to workers onsite though a partnership with South West TAFE. 

Cooinda has set itself a target  to have 30 percent of the workforce qualified at Certificate III and 70 percent with Certificate IV in Disability and is taking positive measures and establishing effective partnerships to ensure it achieves this goal.
Cooinda invest in staff development even beyond supporting their workforce to gain a qualification. 

They provide a diverse range of training, professional development and wellbeing opportunities and training has included Auslan, Understanding Autism, Stress Management, Bushfire Safety for workers, Cultural Awareness, MATE training – 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 140 employees, (2016-57 EFT to Dec 2019 100 EFT) with a marked increase in the percentage of young people employed. While Cooinda 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 four young people aged under 19 in their employ for the first time.

Cooinda report 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 on boarding new employees.

Workplace culture key to retaining staff

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.

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

Contact information
Dianne Hardy, Project Lead, Disability Workforce Innovation, 0383414309,