19 October 2023

Award-winning aged care pathway program inspires young people to pursue careers in the industry

| Keeli Royle
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Assistant Care employee Mark Laird with Warrigal registered nurse going to Rapid Antigen Tests.

Mark Laird has been part of Warrigal’s Assistant Care Employee (ACE) program for almost a year and is now considering a career in nursing. Photos: Keeli Royle.

A local team that created a trailblazing program to give students and young school leavers hands-on experience in the aged care sector has been recognised for their brilliant idea and now hopes other organisations will follow suit.

The Assistant Carer Employer (ACE) program is aimed at young people aged 16 or older who are in their final years of school or have just graduated, and seeks to provide flexible and meaningful employment that can adapt to their lifestyle.

Warrigal CEO Jenni Hutchins said the ACE workers helped ease pressure on carers and other employees by taking on jobs like feeding and cleaning, but their main purpose is to create a connection with the residents and help improve their quality of life.

“We wanted that consistency and predictability and our ACE employees are there to really enjoy the company of our older people, to assist in any way, might be hand holding, it might be talking and having a conversation, it might be assisting with eating at meal times, reading, a range of things, but it is about relationship formation at a time that there’s been a big change in a person’s life,” Ms Hutchins said.

“It’s about intergenerational engagement, older people don’t just want to be with older people, they still want to connect and engage with younger people.”

The success of the program was recently celebrated when a panel of judges awarded the team the Brilliant Idea Award at the Community Service Awards.

“How wonderful is it!” Ms Hutchins said. ” I was so chuffed, so chuffed.”

“I just think it’s an accolade for Warrigal but it’s an accolade to say that we can trust and respect our younger generation to be with our older generation,” she added.

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19-year-old Mark Laird didn’t envision himself pursuing a career in health, but after volunteering at Warrigal while in high school, he was surprised by how easily he connected with the residents.

“I found myself throughout high school in a stage where I was quite vulnerable and a time of rapid change and I think in the same way for the residents it was also a time of great change where they move into a home and are slowly losing the ability to do the things they were once able to do,” Mark said.

“It was really nice relating to them in that way.”

So when he heard about the ACE program 12 months ago, Mark jumped at the opportunity to get back involved.

“I’ve loved it and it continues to be a great experience and it has shown me the value of young people working within aged care, it’s such a great thing.”

“I think the relational side of it is the main reason I got into it, I like chatting to the older people and getting to know them has been really valuable.”

ACE Mark Laird with Warrigal's Penelope Batman and Jenni Hutchins.

ACE Mark Laird with Warrigal’s Penelope Batman and Jenni Hutchins.

The program has helped young people become more mature and independent, as well as teach them valuable lessons about caring for others, and even about loss.

Warrigal’s executive leader of people and culture Penelope Batman said it has also shown many that the sector has many opportunities for rewarding careers and also provided the chance for school leavers and new graduates to get their foot in the door early.

“The whole idea of ACE is really a pathway, I call it the nursing pathway but you can go the caring pathway, you can stop, pause or get off at any point,” she said.

“It’s the flexibility for people to be able to create the career that they want based on what level of motivation or interest they have.

“They can also go into management or all kinds of different areas, it’s not just this one stream.”

Ms Batman said while the team is thrilled to have received an award for the project, it’s about much more than that.

“We have actually found in the homes where we have the ACEs, the residents are maintaining their weight better, there are fewer falls as well because they’re there during meal times. So it’s had a really positive impact and we can actually measure the impact that they’re having,” Ms Batman said.

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The program has so far involved almost 70 ACE workers and has an incredible retention rate of 90 per cent, with more than 200 young people applying for a position in the latest round of intakes.

While the Warrigal team still liaises with schools to advertise positions and the benefits of the program, the popularity is mainly down to word of mouth.

“If you like caring for people, if you’re a compassionate person, if you’re empathetic, if you just want to learn,” Mark said. “A lot of young people are very curious and who’s better to learn from than young people who have lived a whole long meaningful life.”

“I think the ultimate goal that I’d like to see is that the program doesn’t just stay within Warrigal,” Mark said. “Other aged care facilities are seeing the impact of this program and I’d love for this to be something that is adopted in all aged care facilities.”

“It’s just so valuable for young people and the residents as well.”

To contact Warrigal or see employment opportunities, visit the Warrigal website.

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