2017 has been an interesting year for Careerforce, notably due to the emergence of the government’s historic $2b Pay Equity settlement. We absolutely applaud the government for their actions in recognising that the value of the carer workforce has been significantly undervalued, a universally shared view. However, we equally understand the unsettling impact that it has had upon those operating in the aged care sector due to the paradigm shift created.
Careerforce has come under some unfounded criticism around Pay Equity, notably from some stakeholders who have been adversely affected, but who did not understand Careerforce’s legislated obligations. As a result, I recently hosted a nationwide series of well attended stakeholder events, and it was pleasing to see that any initial resistance from some attendees quickly dissipated. I was able to explain that at very short notice, we were required to assess the equivalence of existing carer qualifications with NZQA qualifications (including that people from specified countries with a nursing diploma or degree are automatically considered equivalent to the NZ level 6 or 7). Importantly, we were only allowed to assess equivalence, and not relevance. We don’t have discretion, we’re simply bound by the Act. The process of determining equivalence is a very robust process, that has consumed significant organisational resource.
As with any policy initiative, there are always going to be some unavoidable but also unintended consequences. In the instance of Pay Equity, it is possible for someone to achieve the level 3 qualification (and therefore a higher hourly rate), by virtue of their previous qualifications, but which may not be relevant to the job they currently have. It would have been in Careerforce’s interests if this equivalence provision had not been included in the legislation. We would have preferred that the legislation had simply said “hold Careerforce/NZQA qualifications”, and anyone who felt they already had the associated competencies, could quickly be assessed and obtain that qualification through the recognition of current competency process.
Nonetheless, it is universally agreed that carers have been in the past, undervalued, and providers have been under-funded to recognise the contribution that carers make. This enormous pay settlement, which is being largely funded by the government, is an attempt to redress the wrongs that the NZ Courts deemed to have occurred through inequitable pay.
Of course, ability to pay is a function of productivity. The way to improve productivity usually includes building competency and qualifications for the workforce. This means that many providers are reviewing their business models to ensure that the productivity gains that need to come with qualifications and increased pay are realised.
Careerforce’s role in this process is simply to ensure that, as far as possible, qualifications are fit for purpose. The qualifications remain the property of NZQA and are national qualifications. Careerforce does not have the discretion to simply build and change qualifications without obtaining the approval of NZQA through their lengthy processes.
2018 will also be an interesting year for Careerforce.
It is now five years since we undertook the targeted review of qualifications process (TROQ) and it is timely that we again review our qualifications to ensure their continued relevance and fit for purpose. Accordingly, we will be approaching NZQA to trigger a complete review during 2018 / 2019, and will be subsequently seeking your views and opinions on what should be changed, improved or added to in the qualifications framework.
Over 2018, we will also continue to press TEC and NZQA to come up with a system for funding and managing the development of “micro credentials”. Micro credentials are modules that address specific competencies, but are less than a full qualification. An example would be PEG feeding (feeding people through tubes), a very important competency that is exercised by people across our sectors but not a core competency that every carer needs to have. Under micro credentialing, and using the principles of just in time learning, one could learn how to do this when a provider required that skill, and anybody achieving such a micro credential would then have this on their record of learning.
As there is no mandatory system for maintaining and recording current competency, the micro-credentialing process could be a very effective way of ensuring that individuals maintain the competencies and qualifications that reflect the changing needs of an evolving workplace.
Fees Free, effective from 1 January 2018, also has the potential to shake up the wider tertiary training landscape. Just as we applaud Pay Equity, we also equally applaud Fees Free, or indeed any policies that encourage some form of tertiary study, particularly if it helps to improve the outcomes for the tens of thousands of care workers who work across our sectors, and the people they support. We are also mindful however that it may steer some people more towards university style study (and away from industry style training) on the basis of greater potential fee savings, but not necessarily reflecting the best course of study option for the individual. More information on Fees Free can be found at our website, www.careerforce.org.nz .
On behalf of the Careerforce organisation, I wish everyone a very prosperous 2018, and we look forward to engaging with you across the year as we continue to address the significant challenges facing our sectors.