A new evaluation report by the Workforce Innovation and Development Institute (WIDI) reveals the results from the inaugural Reach, Train and Employ project. Spearheaded by Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria, Reach, Train and Employ saw 31 Victorian mature-aged graduates achieve a Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing and Disability).
The program was supported by the Try, Test and Learn Fund, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Social Services, in partnership with RMIT University, Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand and the Cities of Brimbank, Melton and Bacchus Marsh.
Reach, Train and Employ aimed to improve employment outcomes for older Australians through accredited training and job placement in the aged care and disability services sectors, supporting older people and people with disabilities in the community. The program’s training was designed to address barriers to employment, including low digital literacy, limited access to technology, health and wellbeing concerns and loss of confidence. The program provided extended support to find sustainable employment in roles such as personal carer in residential aged care, in-home support worker, disability support worker and community-based individual support worker.
The evaluation found that student retention was high, with 81% of enrolled people aged over 50 (n=37) completing their training – significantly higher than the national average completion rate for the same course (39%). The high retention is even more impressive considering the numerous COVID-19 related challenges that students and project operators faced, such as multiple lockdowns, work placement delays and the sudden and unanticipated transition to remote learning.
One ageist myth is that people aged over 50 are not willing to learn new skills or pursue professional development. The Reach, Train and Employ participants demonstrated that they were more than willing to learn new skills by re-training into a new career. In fact, the report showed that of the 37 participants, around half (52%) were still considering further study after completing their Certificate III in Individual Support.
Reach, Train and Employ adopted a supportive training model, offering a range of project supports designed to increase participant engagement and project completion. Assistance ranged from the practical – such as help with coursework and assessments – to mental health assistance, to material support such as food relief. The evaluation indicated that this support was crucial to the high engagement and retention achieved. This support was highly valued by participants, and for some, it was critical to their project access and engagement.
Evidence suggests the best project model outcomes for people aged over 50 are likely when they have access to diverse support types that can be individualised and are responsive to changes in participants’ needs. The ongoing life coaching sessions were highly valued by most participants, and project staff considered it to be a crucial part of the project’s model.
The participants came to training with a wide variety of skills, experiences, needs and responsibilities. Findings suggest that, for people aged over 50 at risk of long-term unemployment, successful engagement in study requires a responsive and supportive educational model. Evidence also suggests that the wrap-around support and inclusive training model resulted in positive employment outcomes in the social service sector. At the time of preparation of the final evaluation report, the project was on track to meet its 90% employment target within six months of project completion.
COTA Victoria CEO, Tina Hogarth-Clarke, said the project proved to be so much more than an academic program for older Victorians.
‘The Reach Train and Employ project became a catalyst in unlocking passions and experience from the graduating group, who were hungry to pursue career and life-changing opportunities. We found that many of the graduates discovered not only new-found skills, but also used their vast experience and wisdom to contribute to their new work positions,’ Tina said.
With the success of Reach, Train and Employ, Wennie van Riet, Team Leader Social and Economic Participation at COTA Victoria, will be setting up an all-new initiative in 2022, Women Working Together, a mentor program designed to support women aged 50+ along with their training and employment pathway.