At the very first Careerforce Workforce Development Conference in May 2014, the Kaiāwhina Workforce Action Plan was introduced, outlining a 20 year vision and a five year action plan for the development of non-regulated healthcare workers.

Three years on, it is exciting to see progress being made. The third Careerforce Workforce Development Conference, held this week in Wellington, carried the theme of co-design, leadership and success, an appropriate banner under which to discuss how to leverage the status of New Zealand’s health, wellbeing, disability and support workforce.

There are many ticks on the action plan matrix already – largely owing to Careerforce’s commitment to qualification programmes and developing career pathways for workers.

This was best highlighted at the graduation and awards ceremony for Careerforce’s very first health and wellbeing apprentices. Thirty-three graduates took the stage to receive their qualification, in a range of areas including community facilitation, mental health and addiction support, and brain injury rehabilitation support.

Māori trainee of the year recipient Turaukawa Sam Bartlett shared how he left school with just 23 NCEA credits, yet Careerforce’s apprenticeship programme had enabled him to receive an education in an area that would enable him to help others in his whanau and community.

Many of the unticked action points on the matrix will be influenced by policy changes and Governmental budgetary decisions. For example, funding mechanisms need to be developed to implement emerging models of care.

However, Professor Des Gorman of Health Workforce NZ outlined some of the complexities associated with unbundling current funding packages to direct funding where it is most needed, both now and in the future.

“We need to disinvest historic funding mechanisms before we get to your workforce,” he told delegates. “But the Minister [of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman] says the transition has to be managed in a way it won’t disrupt service delivery.”

Gorman says international evidence shows there is no correlation between investment and the impact on the unmet health need. He believes New Zealand needs “mega structural reform” to address its unmet health need. This involves more virtual health delivery and cross-sector collaboration to achieve truly patient-directed care, he said.

Under this line of thinking, the kaiāwhina workforce could be incorporated into virtual healthcare teams. Discussions around co-design and the transfer of learning prompted delegates to consider how such an idea might be collectively achieved.

Ultimately, the mood of the conference was positive; a lot has been achieved, and while there is much more yet to be done, the sectors are open to new ideas and collaboration.

As Careerforce chief executive Ray Lind said in his opening address, workers need the “can-do and the competencies” to perform their roles well, and this couldn’t happen without the sort of commitment, leadership and discussion so evident at this week’s conference.

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