Anne Row Monaghan describes the range of courses offered to the staff of Sunbeam House Services. Anne Rowe Monaghan, Staff Trainer/Staff Support Support Services SHS, Bray, Co. Wicklow


‘Learning is the process by which we have moved every step of the way since we first breathed.’ (Ferguson 1982)

According to Dr William Glasser (1998), the founder of Reality Therapy/Choice theory, people are born with genetic needs both psychological and physiological. The psychological needs include the need for love and belonging, the need for freedom (making choices, decision-making opportunities, etc.), the need for power (acknowledgement, accomplishment, recognition, significance) and the need for fun (the creative reward and part of learning).

It stands to reason that the more the above needs are met in the workplace, the more staff will feel fulfilled in that setting.

Sunbeam House Services (known as SHS) is an organisation which started in its present form in 1977 and which provides a multiplicity of services for adults with learning disabilities in County Wicklow. As we move into a new era SHS is committed to seeking to fulfil some of the personal and professional needs of staff in the workplace.

There are several mechanisms that can be used to help meet the needs of staff, including recognition via adequate salary, opportunities for personal and career development, and a systems structure that facilitates empowerment, recognition and usage of the personal strengths of staff.

The belief is presented here that in-service training can be used as one of the effective tools to encourage the development of all of the above.

Courses like first aid, introductory sexuality awareness training, induction training, European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) training, Crisis Prevention Intervention training, manual handling, and other health and safety training have been and are still offered to staff in an in-service context. Indeed some training is compulsory for all staff, including administration and auxiliary staff.

In 1999, a full-time, permanent position was created for a staff trainer. Before that a part-time trainer was employed who concentrated on the area of sexuality awareness training. Other training was carried out by staff members who were committed and interested in specific areas and undertook specific training qualifications, in addition to their initial job descriptions. This showed itself to be useful in that it offered career progression and development to skilled staff and also meant that they were able to deliver tailor-made training within the organisational context. It also meant that these trainers were and are available on an ongoing basis for consultation if required. External trainers were also used.

Today the majority of the training in the organisation is given by staff themselves. There are at least seven staff members who are qualified trainers, three of whom are full-time trainers. Two of these full-time staff are devoted entirely to implementing the Personal Outcomes quality system. This training focuses on quality enhancement. Training in personal outcome measures focuses on enabling staff and management to design services based on what individual clients want and require from us as service providers. It is a concept that originated in the USA and is now being used in many countries and in many services in Ireland. Training involves attendance at a four-day workshop with a follow-up option of two-day training in information-gathering skills. Almost fifty per cent of the staff complement have received this training in the past twelve months.

Kolb (1975) suggests that adult education (in-service training being an expression of this) is most effective when the participants evaluate it as

  • relevant,
  • utilising life’s experiences,
  • taking the form of action, reflection, and theorising,
  • capable of being tested in a real-life setting.

From this perspective a staff-needs analysis was carried out throughout the whole organisation in November 1999. Staff considered that, while in-service training is valuable, it can be a waste of time if not effective towards the client users. They also said that training needs to be rewarded and acknowledged in some way and needs to be a combination of theory and practice. Using this as a guiding and reference point, a series of training courses were offered throughout 2000 to all staff, including full-time and part-time staff, care workers and administration, bus-drivers, escorts and others–using Kolb’s methodology.

Here is a brief analysis of the training offered by me as staff trainer within the context of the SHS Support Services.

In the training courses throughout the year,

  • at least 50% of available staff participated in one or more of the courses on offer;
  • 15% of the participants were male and 85% female, representative of 33% of females and 6% of males from the organisation as a whole;
  • staff from 22 of the 23 services were represented;
  • training took place in north, mid and south Wicklow, thereby accommodating the travel and employment needs of the staff participating;
  • including repeats, there were approximately 160 in attendance at 18 courses, several being repeated.

Eleven topics were included:

  • basic counselling and communication skills for use in everyday setting;
  • working with older clients;
  • working with people with profound disabilities;
  • developing facilitation skills;
  • information-gathering skills;
  • introduction to learning disabilities studies;
  • human growth and development;
  • role of staff and the intimacy needs of clients;
  • bereavement;
  • power and the professional relationship;
  • sexuality training (pilot).

Also during 1999-2000, SHS was the host organisation and venue for an open learning ‘Certificate in Social Care’, validated by University College Galway, utilising a staff member as a tutor. From September 2000 to May 2001 we are also running a pilot course from the NCVA system.

As a result of ongoing evaluation and staff feedback–which is always welcome and a necessary database from which to design future courses–most of the above courses will be offered in the year 2001. It is planned to also offer the following:

  • negotiating and assertiveness skills;
  • bullying in the workplace;
  • dealing with client disclosures;
  • report writing and record-keeping;
  • principles of good practice.

In evaluating the effectiveness of the above courses, training staff have concluded that courses that involve a mixture of staff from various services within the organisation facilitate staff getting to know each other and obtaining a better knowledge of the services the organisation provides.

The following comments were made by staff members who participated in training courses last year:

I have so far changed some of the ways I deal with the clients … also it is good to know that I already did a lot of this unknown to myself prior to the course. I must be doing an okay job.’

‘It resulted in a renewal of confidence and personal appreciation of my own skills and experiences, realising that new things are now possible and quite reachable.’

Staff need days away to ‘reflect and change small things in their units and in themselves….it’s good to discuss.’

‘Good opportunity for personal reflection and then to expand that to encompass our clients’ experiences.’

‘It has made me realise how clients must feel sometimes.’

There are real and ongoing challenges on this journey of providing in-service staff training.

  • Rostering – freeing up staff to attend the courses they choose to attend. Small groups have proven to be less of a difficulty here.
  • Expense – SHS conclude that the training programme is worth it.
  • External validation–while in-house certificates are issued by qualified staff, it is our hope in the future also to offer staff external validation (SHS invites comments, advice and suggestions from other organisations in the area of accreditation and accessing open learning in the workplace).
  • How to measure change and the effectiveness of training in the service users’ lives. Ultimately this is the real goal of any training–to empower the lives of staff and services users more effectively.

The staff comments, shown above, and other in-house evaluations have confirmed to me that staff training is a valuable tool to equip staff effectively for their changing role as carers. It also affords them invaluable opportunities to meet some of their psychological needs and provides opportunities for both personal and professional development.

As Carl Rogers (1983) says, ‘The only [person] who is educated is the [person] who has learned how to learn; the [person] who has learned how to adapt and change; the [person] who has realised that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a base for security. Changiness, a reliance on process rather than static knowledge, is the only thing that makes sense as a goal for education in the modern world.’


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