Workplace literacy and numeracy unlocks employee potential at Lifewise

When Grant Taylor, Service Manager Health & Disability at Lifewise Homecare Services, introduced a literacy and numeracy programme, the outcomes were quickly evident. “Our support workers are just different!” says Grant, “They are more communicative, more confident and more supportive of each other. They are clearly more engaged in discussion, presenting ideas and asking questions.”

Lifewise is a community-based healthcare provider, working with families, older people, the disabled, and people at risk of homelessness.  Based in Auckland, the organisation has 160 staff making 250,000 visits a year to some 1,400 clients.   

Grant had introduced Careerforce’s Level 2 Health and Wellbeing qualification with support from Careerforce Workplace Advisor, Suzanne Edwards and Learning Engagement Advisor, Ifi Ripley.  Grant then talked to Nick Miles from Edvance Workplace Education about workplace literacy and numeracy.  Around 43% of New Zealand adults have low literacy and numeracy skills.  But this doesn’t need to be a barrier to learning and development.  Funded programmes provide wrap-around literacy and numeracy support embedded into workplace training including Level 2 qualifications.

Getting Started

When Grant put it out to the staff, he was surprised to get such a good uptake, although addressing their concerns was important.  Very quickly, there was a group of nine support workers meeting every Tuesday at 1.00pm for 2 hours over 20 weeks.  In that time the Edvance Tutor, Edna, has become one of the team, complementing the work of the Lifewise trainers.

Challenges of group training 

In community-based organisations, trying to get a number of staff off-roster at the same time for group training, can be a challenge.  However, Grant says it’s about understanding workflow and timing the sessions outside of service peak times.  

Also, Grant notes, “There’s a human aspect to how you approach setting this up.  When you present it as an opportunity, clients see its value and are willing to adjust timeframes to enable it.”  

Impact of the training

“Our workforce is very diverse.” says Grant, “The training group was made up of different ethnicities, and I wondered how that would go.  Very quickly, the trust was there, the divisions were gone, and they were just one big group working together.  

“Support workers have to read and understand care plans and use a message service accessed through smart phones, so the learning has helped with their digital literacy as well.

“There’s an increase in reporting.  Emailing is up and phone traffic is down which is more efficient for us and has a direct financial impact.  We’re not a call centre so if staff are phoning in all their reports, that means we have staff here sitting on phones all day.  The increased use of emails is a definite benefit to the organisation.”

What next for Lifewise?

Grant says Lifewise will definitely run the literacy and numeracy programme again for staff doing Health and Wellbeing Level 2 and maybe a pre-Level 3 programme.  “Having the support at this end of their training means we can look towards offering staff the Health and Wellbeing Certificate (Level 4) in future and know we won’t be setting them up to fail.” 

The Health & Disability Service is one of Lifewise’s wide range of services, supporting vulnerable people at every stage of their lives. Lifewise work includes partnering with community and government to provide safe, affordable housing, offering quality early childhood education, ensuring good quality foster care for children in need, and running the community-focused Merge Café.  Lifewise focuses on the principle of interdependencerather than independence or dependence, providing sustainable solutions to social issues, which attempt to address the root causes of social isolation and disadvantage.

Grant is happy to talk to other healthcare providers thinking about setting up a literacy and numeracy programme. Please contact him at: GrantT@lifewise.org.nz.  

For information on a range of workplace literacy and numeracy initiatives for the health and wellbeing sector, and the cleaning sector, please contact Cushla Wilson, Careerforce Literacy and Numeracy Advisor, cushla.wilson@careerforce.org.nz, 04 550 2426, 027 838 9512. 

To learn more about Edvance Workplace Education, please contact Nick Miles, Business Development Consultant, 09 869 2227 Ext. 304 / 027 915 9004,nick@edvance.co.nz.