JUDE BARBACK meets the new chief executive for the New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA), Simon Wallace.

“Meet” is not strictly accurate.

Simon Wallace is at the NZACA office in Wellington; I am at my desk in Papamoa. A telephone interview must suffice for now. We joke about the arrival of another Simon onto the aged care scene, as he joins Simon O’Dowd and Simon Challies, two prominent names in the industry. My name is also a source of potential confusion, he says; his wife’s name is also Jude.

Although he’s calling from the NZACA office, Wallace doesn’t finish his role as chief executive at the Tourism Industry Association (TIA) until 26 May before starting at the NZACA a week later.

So why the move to aged care?

“After nine years with the TIA I felt it was time for a new challenge.”

He says he’d seen some major projects through at the TIA – like the 2025 long-term growth strategy, for example – so it felt like the right time to move on.

The tourism industry strikes me as wildly different from the aged care industry. Wallace acknowledges they are very different sectors, but he points out that his new role will bear similarities to his work at the TIA. The TIA, like the NZACA, is the peak private member organisation for its industry.

“My role at the TIA has a strong focus on policy, advocacy and lobbying, on working on the issues that matter to the sector.”

They are both growth sectors, Wallace says. He believes it is important to understand what this growth means to the aged care industry in terms of opportunities for investment and reinvestment.

He says while he has experience with staffing and workforce issues, he knows that he will need to get up to speed with the workforce issues currently facing the aged care sector, particularly the TerraNova v Bartlett pay equity case continuing to play out in the courts. His main focus, he says, is on familiarising himself with the legislation and details relating to this case.

He’s also keen to gain a better understanding of the ins and outs of the Age-related Residential Care contract, of interRAI and other relevant issues.

In spite of the steep learning curve ahead of him, Wallace seems undaunted by the task; he seems eager to get started.

“The Association has a nice feel about it,” he says, “They’ve made me feel so welcome, and I haven’t even started yet!”

That said, he heeds the parting advice of former NZACA chief executive Martin Taylor, that the first year is “really hard”.

“I’m expecting the first year to be challenging,” admits Wallace. “But coming from an industry body, you become thick-skinned,” he laughs.

Wallace is keen to get out and talk to the membership. He’s particularly looking forward to the annual NZACA conference, and says the programme is looking good.

Gaining a good understanding of the role providers play and the challenges they face is essential in building a strategy for the sector, he says.

“My view from the outside is that the aged care industry does a fantastic job providing care that is very complex.

“In the medium to long term I think we could get better at telling the story of the sector, the great things we do and the challenges we face. I’m not sure if the wider public is fully aware of the incredible growth that is coming this way.”

Wallace is eager for the sector to take hold of its own plan and be industry-led, rather than government-led. He makes the point that the industry’s strategy must be robust in order to withstand potential changes in government.

He is familiar with liaising with Ministers and government officials – he even worked as an advisor to an Associate Minister of Health at one stage.

There is undoubtedly much more to know about the incoming NZACA boss, but I feel I have interrogated him enough – it always feels a little mean quizzing someone on his intentions for a job he hasn’t started yet. Still, I can’t resist a few nosy personal questions for good measure.

When he’s not working,Wallace says he can generally be found on the sidelines of sportsfields, cheering on his two boys aged nine and seven. He’s a keen gardener. He loves overseas travel.

“Although I don’t expect to be doing too much of that in the next year,” he says wryly.

I suspect he is right – no small task awaits him at the NZACA.

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