Werry Workforce Whāraurau hits a home run during COVID-19 lockdown

Werry Workforce Whāraurau, a centre supported by UniServices for professional development teaching evidence-based interventions in the child and adolescent mental health sector, is a nimble team of 25 around New Zealand. Pre-COVID-19, travelling up and down the country was an essential part of the way they worked in delivering training and workforce development. But then, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face meetings and travel vanished and the team’s options for delivering became virtually limited. 

Tasked with the sudden responsibility of training specialised workers to deliver services differently, at the same time as also adapting to a new way of working themselves, the challenge for the Werry Workforce team and resulting success has been no small feat.

“At the beginning of the lockdown, the conversations we were having with industry leaders highlighted there was a real need to help the sector feel confident and capable in delivering their services virtually. To do that, we also needed to teach virtually and we had to quickly upskill ourselves while faced with an upheaval of our usual processes,” said Werry Workforce Whāraurau Director Sue Dashfield. 

“Our international networks became really important at this time. The willingness for collaboration, generosity in sharing information and openness to hearing about and adapting different ways of doing things has really quickly amplified the network’s value and the opportunity for innovation together,” said Sue.

Then, the team saw record-shattering engagement in Werry’s resources, workshops and expertise covering topics such as motivational interviewing, managing childhood anxiety in a COVID-19 environment and supporting family/whanau through isolation. In the lockdown period from Level 4 to Level 2 more people attended online professional development training from Werry, than the total who attended training from Werry for all of 2019. Compared to the same period as last year, Werry’s attendance numbers were 36 times greater. Thousands more also watched the recorded forums after they were posted to the website.

“There are several factors behind the increased engagement. First, there was an urgent need for the workforce to understand how to continue delivering services to people who may be experiencing more vulnerable situations. We began offering a weekly eLearning forum to meet this demand, which we had not done before. Beyond that, running sessions online has made access to professional development more accessible – there is less time involved, and people can return to the information in their own time too.

“Throughout this time we have been listening closely to what the workforce needs and wants from us, and responding quickly to this. It has been fantastic to see people grow their confidence, capability and curiosity and some in the sector are already signaling they will be incorporating virtual service delivery ongoing, as it brings particular benefits for some younger clients,” said Sue.

Looking ahead, Werry Workforce Whāraurau is also thinking about how it incorporates virtual training ongoing as well as connecting together as a team. 

“I am very proud of the way the Werry team rose to the challenge and has continued their professionalism and educational leadership in this sector to support people when they really needed it. There is a lot we can build on and I am excited by the momentum that we have, which is a silver lining through this unusual time.”