Case study: Van – Team Leader

From casual worker to qualified team leader, Van is still excited about working in disability support after 20 years.

From casual worker to qualified team leader, Van is still excited about working in disability support after 20 years.

Van recently became team leader at the Scope Northern District Lifestyle Options day centre. After 20 years working in disability support, he says his job satisfaction has only increased.

Van started off as a casual worker supporting people living in residential settings before moving to a role in which he supports people to participate in a range of day activities.

“I had no background or qualifications in disability at all – and no computer skills. But after a few months I was offered a permanent position by a house coordinator who liked the way I worked.

“During that time, I was promoted to manual handling officer, which involved planning and helping staff observe correct procedures in areas such as mobility, transportation and personal care. I enjoyed helping people stay safe and develop confidence and skills to cope with different challenges,” Van says.

Now, with a Certificate IV in Disability and many years of experience, he feels ready to teach others and share his wealth of knowledge.

“As a team leader I enjoy empowering my staff and I treat them as equals. If there’s a challenging situation, we discuss it; I encourage them to make suggestions and then look at the best solution.

“Team leaders need to have good time management and planning skills, which suits me because I’ve always been one for planning ahead. It’s also important to know how to switch off and not bring your worries home, which can be hard to do in practice.”

Reflecting on his career journey, Van considers learning from colleagues to be as important as formal training for improving knowledge and skills.

“Working alongside different team leaders and coordinators I was able to pick up different skills, whether it’s inspiring people and recognising hard work, or coping with less-than-inspiring paperwork.

“After you’ve been hired as a disability support worker, induction training is usually the first step on a road of continuous learning. There are always opportunities to progress and apply for next-level positions, and managers will often spot people with the potential to excel,” he says.

For Van, all knowledge and skills, however important, must be underpinned by personal values – respect, compassion and patience.

“As a support worker you must have compassion. You’ve got to treat people living with disability how you’d like to be treated if you were in their shoes. Many of the people we support have difficulties communicating so you must be patient when you communicate with them and be a good listener.

“Respect is another key value for me. Growing up in Vietnam we’re taught to respect others: if someone is older than you, learn from them; if they’re younger, teach them and set a good example. Speak to people in a way that shows you respect them.

“For me, job satisfaction comes from supporting other people to do more, and that satisfaction has only increased over the years.”

Van’s story is one example from the many organisations and individuals dedicated to supporting people with disability in Victoria. Organisations may offer services and work opportunities that differ from those described here.