The GEST Experience

Empowering Employment: The success story of Learn Local training program in Latrobe Valley

Call centre training program is an up-ending disadvantage

The Latrobe Valley in Victoria’s east has an unemployment rate of 7.5%. (in 2021/2) That’s about twice the Victorian regional average. The Valley has always done it tough, but the closure of the Hazelwood power station in 2017 contributed to a soaring number of long-term unemployed people in the region.

Long-term unemployment has dire implications for communities. The children of parents who are jobless can experience poor education and employment outcomes, which leads to entrenched disengagement and disadvantage.

While there are new industry employment opportunities in the region, employers have struggled to attract suitably skilled employees. Aussie Broadband is one of those employers. And they approached Gippsland Employment Skills Training with an excellent idea.

A local community focus

Claire Morrisey is the learning and development manager at Aussie Broadband. Back in 2018, the locally established internet provider needed staff in its Morwell call centre.

“One of Aussie Broadband’s company values is to be good to people,” says Claire. “We’re an organisation that has large involvement with the community and we always look for opportunities to make our community better.

“There’s a lack of understanding for some people about what it means to have a job. There’s a huge need for people to gain great employment. And we can be part of that,” she says.

Aussie Broadband joined with Gippsland Employment Skills Training (GEST) to co-design a Learn Local adult education program. While it had to meet the industry’s needs, to provide a real opportunity to gain employment on successful completion, it also had to be customised for people who had experienced barriers to education or employment in the past. This cohort needed intensive support to re-engage with learning and to understand the expectations of an employer.

That calls for a special type of trainer. Someone with incredible empathy, patience, and genuine care for the learner. A kind of ‘magician’ of behaviour change.

Love for the locals

Jennifer McCafferty from GEST is just the person for the job. She’s a born and bred local, who’s passionate about her community.

“I know how hard it is to get work,” says Jen. “It always used to be power station work. But about three or four years ago, call centres started in the area and we discovered we had a skill shortage that needed to be addressed.

The ‘Kick Start Your Career in Customer Service’ curriculum was written in conjunction with Aussie

Broadband. GEST drilled into what the employer was looking for in staff and the gaps that needed filling. The program also focused on the generic, transferable skills that people may not have realised they had.

Another important element was structuring the training over a four-week period.

“The reason for that is you can change habits during that time,” explains Jen. “The learners make connections and then they want more.”

Four weeks also gives the trainers sufficient time to observe behaviour and identify any special mentoring needs among the learners. That little bit of extra support to build their confidence and help them to reach their goals.

“We just prepare the person as best as possible to start work,” she says. “Even things as simple as punctuality, getting to bed on time, and eating and drinking properly.” The course content includes:

  • basic digital technology skills
  • telephone etiquette, customer service skills, conflict resolution, operational policies (such as bullying and harassment)
  • the importance of professional accountability, confidentiality and privacy
  • job-related language and literacy skills
  • personal presentation, grooming and hygiene
  • one day of supervised work experience at Aussie Broadband
  • resumé writing, selection criteria and mock job interviews with feedback.

Proud to work

Jeremy had been out of work for 10 years before completing the ‘Kick Start Your Career in Customer Service’ program. He says he felt “invisible, isolated and worthless”. Now he’s a very proud (and highly valued) complaints officer at Aussie Broadband.

“I took a leap of faith on this program. I knew I had nothing to lose. In the training room on the first day…I’m looking on to the (Aussie Broadband) customer service floor, and the energy was strong,” he says.

“Everyone looked happy. It’s incredible. Right there was the first thing that set a fire in me. I cannot begin to explain what this program has done for me.”

Jeremy has nothing but praise for the support he received from his trainer, Jen McCafferty.

“You can see the love in her eyes the way she worked with us,” he says. “Each person. Everybody was different. And she embraced them uniquely…made sure there was no-one left behind. Everyone was drawn in and encouraged to participate.”

Jeremy is thriving in his role as a complaints officer. Employment has changed his life and he’s proud to work for Aussie Broadband.

Claire says an Aussie Broadband director once said, ‘we don’t have 1000 staff. We have 1000 families that we support’.

That philosophy has stuck with her.

“The reality is, when you put one person through a course and they get a job, the impact spreads. Their kids get to see what it’s like to be in work. And that builds people’s capacity,” says Claire.

This award-winning program is real-life transformation in action. It’s not the intimidating classroom experiences some may have had at school. It involves real people, discovering pathways to training and employment they did not believe could be taken. Just awesome.