We’re a diverse charity and we get a lot of ex-footballers working here,” says Marie Duncan, learning and development manager at Kibble, specialist child and youth care provider and one of Scotland’s best-known charities, as she leads the way through its sprawling campus on a windswept late summer day. “I don’t know why.”
And indeed, though the proximity to St Mirren – Paisley’s professional team – may explain some of the appeal to former players, day-to-day life at the organisation couldn’t be much further away from life as a sportsman. Kibble supports young people who have experienced trauma and occupies a unique position as a provider of secure facilities for those with complex needs. It traces its history back 160 years and now supports around 120 children, offering fostering and support services to create stability for those who have often been through the care system without success. Placing a child here is expensive but can lead to opportunities to gain educational or vocational skills that turn their lives around.
The work, says Duncan, can be “challenging and tiring” for care workers who make up half the 700-strong workforce and who often work intensive shift patterns providing therapeutic support. “You need to be patient and not take things personally because the kids can be very emotional and angry with you at times,” she says. “You need to see beyond behaviour.”
It means the L&D offering naturally focuses on managing behaviour – how to de-escalate difficult situations and, in a worst-case scenario, how to deal with issues around self-harm, suicide prevention and violence. But since she joined more than three years ago, Duncan has broadened Kibble’s learning to reach more people and to consider how to nurture relationships and apply pedagogy to improve outcomes for its young people.
“Particularly when you’ve got staff on night shifts, you can’t deliver training in a traditional way all the time – plus it costs us to backfill every time we remove a staff member from their job,” she says. “We need to factor in those hidden costs.” It’s meant being inventive about how and where learning takes place, using frontline employees including managers to deliver expert workshops, supplemented by the best curated content that is made deliberately easy to access and share among an employee base that often lacks access to computers.
Duncan’s mission statement has been to empower staff to take control of their own learning – “it’s the idea that’s set the tone for the last three-and-a-half years” – and to focus on learning transfer, quantifying which skills are going to make a real difference in the workplace.
She gives the example of the chronic sleep disorders that blight the lives of many of Kibble’s children. Previously, the team might have delivered straightforward training on best practice in the area. Now, experienced staff are trying new strategies and giving practical workshops to peers on what works. On child mental health, meanwhile, the L&D team has populated its learning platform with videos, articles and infographics that deal with the sort of situations and queries that arise in what can be a stressful environment.
Kibble is starting to the see the results both in a reduction in physical restraint as a result of its immersive training on the topic, and a turnover of just 4 per cent, which Duncan attributes partly to the increased range of learning opportunities. A marketing mindset has seen the team introduce campaigns using email, posters and internal social platforms to spread the word, and is increasingly considering instructional design.
But the jewel in the crown is the way Kibble is using mentoring to change the learning conversation and challenge didactic models. Three years ago, it introduced a programme to offer new entrants to the sector a 12-month qualification to become a care worker. It has become an integral part of the experience and has enabled trainees to begin working hands-on more effectively. So successful has it been that it is now ingrained in succession planning – anyone who goes for a promotion has to have been a mentor and hold a mentoring qualification.
Duncan talks about a former builder who within a year was “one of our most successful” trainees and is now a full-time care worker. “The reason mentoring has worked so beautifully is that people have come in [to the business] without any experience and they have to rely on a mentor. It means the mentors have been forced to step up. And connecting it to succession planning is helpful because people see it as a feather in their cap, something for their CV. They’re more likely to want to prove themselves as a mentor, whereas before they just viewed it as an additional piece of work.”
What comes next is equally exciting. L&D hopes to distribute tablets to enable even more on-the-job learning, and is creating short films to tackle regular requests from managers. But most of all, says Duncan, it’s about moving from L&D to learning performance and helping the entire business meet its most important goals.
“My vision would be to have a team that went out and business partnered much more regularly. I’d like to increase the amount of mentoring and learning on the job, see managers take on more responsibility for role modelling and do more curating. Then people start to view us as helping you do your job to the best of your ability. Because everyone wants to improve outcomes for kids.”