Thames Reach
Monday 20 November 2017
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Support for trainees

Photo of a former trainee
Mark Whiteford, a former service user trainee, is now a project worker at Thames Reach's Robertson Street hostel

The performance of service user trainees, their job satisfaction and development are significantly improved when they are provided with supervision and support in addition to formal induction and training.

Agencies should set in place regular work-focused supervision and probation to bring traineeships in line with other employment practices.

However, we also recommend putting in place additional systems of support to assist service user employees with the transition from unemployment and homelessness to full-time work. This includes life coaches and buddies.

Why provide support to trainees? 

  1. New trainees are ethically entitled to the same minimum support package that all staff are given, such as regular supervision and probation reviews.

  2. There is a very real danger that the efforts to change the culture of the organisation, and particularly staff attitudes, will backfire if trainees are inadequately prepared for their role.

  3. Trainees can feel out of their depth in their new role, as can any new worker, and this can impact on the quality of service provided and undermine a trainee’s professional development.

  4. Service user trainees may get into difficulties during the programme as a result of, for example, substance misuse relapse, deterioration of mental health, personal housing crises, and problems in adapting to work routines/regimes. The consequences of these issues, if poorly supported, could have a negative impact on the trainee’s health and jeopardise the traineeship and a future job reference.

  5. Non-service user colleagues can become resentful if they feel they are 'carrying' the new workers professionally.

Models of support

There are three distinct models of support that are provided to service user trainees within agencies currently operating schemes. Each model provides greater or lesser separation between personal and work-related support.

The level of formal training varies by agency and is not directly linked to any particular model of support.

The models are:

  1. Standard supervision – the line manager provides a regular level of support, as they do for any new employee, but for trainees this also includes a small amount of non-work related assistance, if required, as with any employee.

  2. Non-delineated supervision and support – in this model, work-related support is provided by the placement supervisor, who is also available to offer personal support.

  3. Delineated supervision and support – in this model, work-related support is provided by a placement supervisor and any personal support is provided by a dedicated support person, such as a life coach, mentor, or employment advice worker. This support is sometimes delivered from within the organisation and sometimes by another partner organisation, providing the greatest level of delineation between work-related supervision and personal support.

What model does Thames Reach employ and why?

Thames Reach decided to develop a model of support that makes a clear delineation between work-related support and personal support.

The debate leading to our decision

There was some debate within the organisation about which model to employ, although all those involved believed that it was important to ensure service user trainees were provided with some personal support. The question for us was: who would provide this support and to what extent.

Some argued that a placement supervisor should provide all support to trainees as they felt it would be artificial to separate discussions about personal issues that are impacting on work and the work itself. It was argued that this is the usual way that staff are supported within Thames Reach and trainees should fit into this model. If a different model was offered it would create a double standard, or make trainees stand out, they argued.

On the other side, some argued that it was important that trainees had a separate and confidential relationship with someone with whom to discuss personal issues that impact their work.

There were concerns that there was potential for the nature and extent of personal support to go beyond that which placement supervisors would regularly provide to their staff and that the work relationship between placement supervisor and trainee would become blurred, with the supervisor playing the role of a counsellor.

Alternatively, it was argued that trainees might be less willing to disclose personal issues and problems to a placement supervisor for fear that they would be judged and assessed as incapable.

It was also argued that placement supervisors would be privy to a greater amount of personal information about trainees than any other member of their team, and thus may be more likely to scrutinise trainees’ behaviour and potentially jump to assumptions.

Most trainees agree with this approach and value the confidential aspect of the relationship with their life coach. Trainees are keen to be given a second chance and do not want to be judged on their behaviour or problems. They do not want to be defined by their past.

After examining models within the mental health and substance misuse fields, Thames Reach decided on a model of support that includes several dedicated roles:

  1. Placement Supervisors

  2. Team colleagues

  3. Buddies

  4. Life Coaches

  5. GROW Project Manager

  6. Service Users at Work Group

  7. Specialist literacy support

Read about one team’s experience of supporting a trainee