Effective support for students
For students, their work placement experience can be ‘make or break’ for their willingness to consider the service provider as a future employer and for their commitment to finishing their training and working in the industry.
Both service providers and RTOs need to make a commitment to support students through their placements. Students also need to make a commitment to this learning opportunity.
In this section you will find guidance for all parties on what this commitment involves.
- RTO commitment
- Service provider commitment
- Student commitment
- What students say helps them
The start of the work placement does not signal or imply that the RTO is handing over responsibility for the student to the service provider. RTOs should be careful not to convey this message unintentionally.
The best way to avoid this is by active participation throughout the placement. For example:
- The RTO trainer/assessor attend the student’s orientation and induction program
- The RTO schedules weekly check-ins with the student and their workplace supervisor (preferably on-site) to make sure the placement is going as intended and to resolve any issues as they arise.
As the co-ordinator of the placement, the RTO is best placed to mediate any issues that may arise between the student and the service provider. They can intervene if there are issues with the student’s performance, problems with the service provider, or if a student’s learning needs are not being met.
The RTO also has a responsibility to identify and raise any issues in relation to a student’s fitness for duty immediately with the service provider, for the protection of the service provider’s clients, staff and the student.
It is also essential that RTO trainers/assessors can be easily and readily contacted throughout the placement by both students and workplace supervisors.
This checklist can help RTOs to meet their commitments before, during and after work placements.
Service provider commitment
The service provider takes on a level of responsibility for the student once they are on-site and needs to exercise its own due diligence in ensuring the student is properly prepared to interact safely with clients.
By providing the student with a full induction and an orientation to the site and the organisation, the service provider gets the opportunity to observe the student’s confidence in the workplace and help them to settle into the workplace culture and rhythms.
During the placement, the service provider needs to ensure the student is subject to an appropriate level of supervision at all times.
Supervision can be direct or indirect depending on the activities the student is performing and the level of risk to clients, staff and/or the service provider.
- Direct supervision is when the supervisor is physically present to observe, guide and direct the student undertaking an activity.
- Indirect supervision is when the supervisor works in the same facility as the student but is not constantly physically observing the student undertaking the activities. The supervisor should be available for reasonable access which will depend on the activities the student is undertaking.
Realistically, a student should expect a combination of both forms of supervision during a placement. Service providers will need to ensure these arrangements are appropriate and encourage students to seek support as required.
Use of a workplace buddy can help ensure day-to-day issues can be resolved quickly and ensure students receive the support they need.
Students may also need support to strike the right balance between showing initiative by enthusiastically taking on additional tasks and not exceeding their developing capabilities.
You can find further information about addressing supervision challenges later in this section.
Workplace supervisors will be required to provide a level of managerial oversight for students, including providing formal and informal feedback as part of a student’s learning plan.
It is important to give students both positive feedback and constructive feedback on areas where they need to improve.
Ensure that the feedback is:
- aligned with the student’s learning goals
- focused on observed behaviours
- positive and encouraging
- based on facts and specific (not generalised).
- documented as required.
Allow the student to reflect on the feedback and discuss strategies for addressing performance issues, which can then be revisited at a later time.
Supporting a diverse range of students
Students seeking to enter the aged care and disability support services workforce come from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Some are young and may come directly from school, while others will be mature aged workers seeking to re-enter the workforce after caring for children or making a career change later in life. Some students come from overseas and may come from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Service providers play an important role in supporting this diversity amongst students as it contributes to building an aged care and disability sector workforce that can respond to client diversity.
Some students will require more, or different kinds of support.
For example, students from culturally diverse backgrounds can benefit from service providers implementing strategies such as:
- providing cross-cultural awareness training to staff in preparation for student placements
- introducing cross-cultural visits and activities for clients
- appointing a buddy to support these students with learning, documentation, and practical matters (e.g. lunch-room etiquette).
It is important that workplace supervisors and buddies have an understanding of the cultural barriers that can be faced by some students and the effects this may have on their workplace experiences. For example, some aged care providers have noted that elderly clients suffering from dementia and/or hearing loss can struggle to understand students who have poor English language or speak with a strong accent. This can lead to client frustration which may be interpreted as racism, when it is in fact an inability to communicate with a student.
This checklist can help RTOs to meet their commitments before, during and after work placements.
Supporting students on their first day
Disability service provider, Bedford Group, ensures that students are well supported on their first day of a work placement.
Induction for students is like new staff member induction. They meet with their manager/supervisor on the first morning and do a tour of the site, undergo workplace health and safety induction, discuss the program, how it operates and Bedford’s expectations of them.
They are then introduced to clients and buddy up with the staff member they will work alongside for their placement.
Bedford makes sure everyone is clear about what students can and can’t do on placements. Students are reminded that during placement they will always be under supervision and are told who to speak to if at any point they feel unsafe or not being supervised appropriately.
(Read more in the Bedford Group case study)
Challenges of work placement supervision in particular settings
Service providers often report that providing supervision for work placements involving in-home care/support and support for social and community participation can be challenging.
These services are usually delivered by a single worker in a client’s home or when supporting the client in a social or community setting. In these circumstances, provision of a safe level of supervision to students while also meeting the client’s needs and preferences, requires some careful planning.
Whilst challenging to do, it is not impossible. As illustrated in the Bedford Group case study, there are examples of it working well.
Some service providers use a combination of placements in a residential care setting supplemented by field work. Some structure ‘buddy shifts’ in which the student works alongside an experienced worker. In the aged care sector, some service providers report that they structure work placements so that students complete 90 hours in a residential aged care setting and the remaining 30 hours in an in-home placement. This makes the placement more manageable for in-home service provision.
While it does require more effort, the importance of offering student placements in these types of settings is critical given the growth in demand for this type of service. Ensuring students can access and have a positive experience in these placements will help meet future workforce needs.
In certain settings, service providers will need to seek the consent of their clients for the work placement. In some situations, especially those that involve going into client’s homes, gaining consent from clients (and their families) will require particular attention.
Tips for gaining client consent
- Some clients, particularly those who have been in the field of education or been active mentors, may be more open to student placements.
- Look at matching students with particular clients who may feel more comfortable with having them in their home or involved in their social life.
- Provide structured opportunities for clients to meet students in a public setting (e.g. a group activity) before asking if they are willing to have a student in their home.
- Providing information to clients and their families on the benefits of student placements on the quality of care can be helpful.
- Sharing positive stories of student placements with clients and their families through newsletters can also encourage others to give consent.
Whilst this guide has been designed to help service providers and RTOs create better work placement experiences for students, students’ commitment to the work placement obviously plays a critical role in its success.
The checklist and tips below can be used by service providers and RTOs to help prepare students for their work placement and help them understand what is expected of them and how they can get the most from their work placement experience.
This resource can be given to students to help them prepare for and make the most of their work placements.
Tips for students
- Work placements provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate that they would be an ideal employee and learn more about your career and study pathways.
- Students need to treat the work placement as a job and adopt appropriate workplace behaviour. They are being entrusted with caring for vulnerable clients and need to understand and comply with the service providers code of conduct, policies and procedures.
- Students need to be ready to take direction in the workplace, but this should be reasonable and not involve them working outside of the scope of practice.
Learning from the work placement
- Students need to feel confident that they understand the Work Placement Agreement and their Workplace Learning Plan. They can ask their RTO questions about these prior to the placement and ask their workplace supervisor during the placement
- During the work placement, students need to be self-motivated learners, willing to accept and respond to feedback, both informal and formal, in a professional manner.
- Sometimes workplace practices can differ from their classroom training. Students should clarify this with their workplace supervisor in a respectful way.
Role of workplace supervisor
- Students need to understand that their workplace supervisor does not undertake the assessment of their competence. Their RTO trainer should explain how this works.
Accepting and responding to feedback
- Students should accept both positive feedback and constructive feedback and focus on strategies to improve their performance.
- They should reflect on how they will address feedback and discuss this with their supervisor.
- Students need to be curious and seek out advice and guidance from experienced workers. There will be many opportunities for them to talk with other workers and they should take advantage of this experience to find out more about working in the industry.
- Students should focus on the client needs and take the time to learn about the clients. They should try to put themselves in the client’s shoes and make sure their practices are informed by their needs.
- If students can’t make their work placement due to an unforeseen issue, they must contact the service provider.
- Students have a responsibility to raise concerns about practices that are putting clients at risk with the service provider, through the appropriate channels.
- If students are experiencing any problems or feel they are not getting exposed to the agreed learning experiences, they should act early to raise these issues with their workplace supervisor and/or RTO trainer.
- Students should expect to see your RTO trainer/assessor regularly, but can contact them immediately if they have an urgent concern.
What students say
- A positive first day – a well-organised and welcoming first day is critical in setting students up for success.
- Having one consistent contact point – students need continuity in either their supervisor, buddy or workplace coordinator so they know who to go to and can form a relationship with them.
- Clear work expectations – like other workers, students need to know what is expected of them each day, have a clear roster of tasks and access to supporting information and equipment.
- Access to client and service provider files, including time to access IT – students need this to complete their assessment tasks and meet their learning goals.
- Not being asked to undertake tasks outside of their scope of practice – it is unfair to put students in such a situation and can pose a risk to clients and other staff.
- Flexibility – students appreciate flexibility that helps them balance their work/life responsibilities.
- Feeling welcome – by having all of the staff at the organisation knowing the students are there and being welcoming and supportive. This includes human resources, administration and management staff.
- Supervisor feedback – students need supervisors to provide formal feedback and complete student logbooks in a timely way.