Mobile home carers in Glasgow have typically had little exposure to IT, so training them was a vital part of a BlackBerry roll-out. Brendan Murphy explains how Glasgow City Council approached the task.

On a daily basis more than 15 Glasgow hospitals assess and discharge patients to care in their own homes. This care often starts with a mobile home carer being assigned to ensure that the person has a safe return home and is helped for the first four weeks after hospital discharge. Consultants can release a patient late afternoon with very little notice to implement effective home care for that evening's cover.

In the past, mobile home carers were required to visit one of nine local offices throughout the city looking for detailed fax messages with details of the client to attend and provide a home care service. This method was prone to error, was costly and inefficient and both the home carer and client were often provided with little useful information, making the first few visits to a new client fraught with difficulty.

Direct and Care Services of Glasgow City Council has now rolled out more than 400 BlackBerry devices to assist in delivery of this key service, principally to allow mobile home carers to quickly respond to emergency new referrals and 'home from hospital' requests which can be made at very short notice.

The benefits of these units include instant, accurate client data being made available to home carers, leading to the provision of a better service to clients. Managers also have instant email access to a frontline workforce who were often difficult to engage with.

This initiative has had a huge effect on services, bringing managers closer both to clients and to lone workers. Lone worker groups feel less isolated, helping improve the service provided, and the skill level in IT of this staff group has also increased greatly.

From the outset, the difficulties in training a manual, part-time largely female workforce were not underestimated.

A focus group of six home carers were initially brought together for an informal meeting to assess previous exposure to technology and to determine the best way to train and deploy over 400 units.

From this group, it was obvious that the principal IT exposure was to mobile phones and this was generally only for voice usage. One week after this meeting the same six home carers were brought together and the strategy for implementation explained to them and, crucially, at this meeting a hands-on session with the BlackBerrys was conducted.

This was highly successful and the home carers themselves decided that implementation should be supported by bringing staff together in small groups to offer a hands-on experience, allowing them to take away their new BlackBerry immediately after the training session.

A one-hour training module was devised and delivered to a maximum of five home carers per session. This short session ensured frontline delivery of services was maintained and also that there was little chance for attendees to become bored.

Delivery was by a general member of the ICT support team, a decision taken to help ease any tension that the manual workers may have had when being confronted by a 'boss'.

Sessions were set up to be particularly humorous to ensure that a positive message went round the teams that the training was fun and enjoyable - essentially delegates sent and received messages to each other and were encouraged to help and support each other during the session - this worked.

At each training session a simple fact sheet was issued detailing very basic BlackBerry functionality (receive, read, send, store emails).

Post-training, home carers also have access to an ICT support team member and drop in sessions are available daily - these are used as 'how do I do this?' type sessions or to change BlackBerry configuration or repair broken units.

The training of this very unusual workforce has been highly successful, a blue print for the training of low-skilled operatives. Hands-on sessions allow a focus on usage to take place and immediate post-training deployment ensures that important skills learned are not forgotten. Direct and Care Services will use this method in future ICT implementations.

About the author

Brendan Murphy is head of ICT and marketing, Direct and Care Services, Glasgow City Council. Direct and Care Services is the second largest department within Glasgow City Council, employing some 9,000 manual workers with a turnover of £129M per annum. School meals, school cleaning, janitorial services, home care services and a range of commercial catering activities are among the principal services of Direct and Care Services. The department works in 10,000 homes daily and has a daily presence in over 300 public buildings.