Robyn Taylor, one of our regular activity coordinator columnists, talks about how to ensure the time a work experience student is with you is beneficial to you both. From delegating tasks, to sharing your passion for your role…
As an activity coordinator, you are always busy. There are endless tasks to do and you’re usually the only one to do them. If a job doesn’t get done, no one else picks it up for you, and it will still be there tomorrow. (That’s if you don’t take it home with you!)
When you think about having work experience students, you may want to roll your eyes a little, feeling that they can often be more of a burden than a help. Mentoring them, showing them the ropes and finding things for them to do each day can often feel like more work. However, students can be a valuable asset to the team. It’s worth setting aside the time to support them so they can be more helpful in the long term, and in other roles that they may take on in the future. In addition, the more time you invest in them, the more they will give back. Everything they learn from you is something the new generation will be taking forward into care for the future. Guiding and mentoring students gives them great insight into the role – they pick up on your actions, your mindset, your work ethic and your kindness, which will continue with them through their working career.
On their first day, understand that they may arrive shy and unsure about what is ahead of them for this journey. Start by offering them your time – set it aside in your calendar so it is truly time you have to spend with them – and show them the role by having them shadow you for a day. Empower their vision by sharing the importance of what you do and how much it helps to improve the lives of all your residents. Introduce them to the residents, and give them time to talk to each one of them (use the Daily Sparkle or something similar if they find conversations hard to start). Also, talk to them about scenarios they may experience in the home as it can be daunting if you haven’t had any experience with the elderly or people with dementia. Explain what to do if certain things happen, and why residents might react in certain ways to events. Remind them that you, or a supervisor, are always there if they have any questions. Make it fun, but also educational, and reassure them as they will experience a variety of emotions throughout their placement.
In the following few days, keep them busy with simple assigned tasks that they can take ownership of. Can they set out quiz sheets for quiz sessions, or could they even run the quiz? Can they be responsible for tidying and sorting the resources cupboard? Give them a weekly schedule of activities so they know what to expect from each day and have a look through activities to discuss some ways they could have jobs that they are in charge of. Make sure though, that they’re also getting to see all the aspects of your role and getting some variety too.
Being an activity coordinator can be a fun role – you bring happiness to those in the later stages of their lives, see their smiles, hear them laugh and see the improvement with the therapies you provide. Your work experience student will get the opportunity to witness all these incredible moments. In the time between being with the residents, when you might be doing admin, make sure you’ve delegated enough tasks for them to work through and to keep busy. They might like to have a list of tasks to achieve during their placement so they can work through them and get a sense of ticking them off. Some good tasks for students to do are:
- Getting to know residents by adding to their life stories, making memory boxes and scrapbooks. This should be done in a communal area where staff are fluttering in and out for assistance. Also, due to safety, students are not allowed in bedrooms.
- Skyping families.
- Writing letters with the residents to their loved ones.
- Reminiscing – use the Daily Sparkle or their own photographs.
- Watching YouTube clips of favourite musicians, films, tv programmes etc.
- Paperwork and planning – ringing entertainers to confirm dates, writing emails, informing staff of upcoming events, rallying support from others to help on future trips.
- Preparations for upcoming events – making decorations with the residents, delivering posters in the community, contacting people for raffle prizes, brainstorming their ideas.
- Research into any ideas you have. Can they collate information for you such as phone numbers, addresses etc?
- Write articles for the care home newsletter.
- Evaluating their time at your home. How they think you can improve for the next set of students on placement.
It’s also a good idea to set them a project to be completed during their time with you. It could be to make a sensory area, create video or photo collages, or plan a presentation of their experience. Encourage them to ask staff questions for their own experience, and organise for them to speak to specific staff if it is a role they have been looking at as a career (carer, senior, nurse or management). Also, allow them downtime to look through any of your training books, policies and procedures, not only might they need these for their coursework, but it will add to their knowledge and experience still further. Make sure to take their project seriously, and plan and implement their ideas onto your calendar so they feel their contribution has been valuable.
How To Arrange Work Experience Students
If you don’t yet have work experience students but want them, then these are some of the best ways to organise them. Firstly, get out there in the community and talk to people, make phone calls and enquiries. The more people that are aware of your home, the easier it will be in the future as they will start to contact you. Speak to secondary schools and sixth form colleges, health & social care departments, catering schools, vocational colleges or courses (maintenance and other departments could accept students too). Also consider occupational therapy students from universities (you can get paid for this too).
You can also consider Jobcentre placements, National Citizen Service, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, or speak to local businesses who want to ‘give back’ by donating their staff’s services for a day or two. Also, remember that it doesn’t just have to be students from education that come and support you. There may be people in the community who simply want to give their time and volunteer – whether that’s playing the piano, painting nails, or just offering friendship and support.
Remember that anyone who comes into the home will need to be DBS checked – schools and colleges can provide this, as can the home with no extra charge. And don’t forget that risk assessments need to be completed for the safety of the volunteer and the residents.
Allowing people the opportunity to come into the home can be just as fulfilling for the students as the residents. And as a mentor, it’s just as much of an accomplishment seeing how the students grow with confidence, knowing you have had valuable input into a student’s journey, and given them something they will take with them into their future occupations.