Careerforce chief executive RAY LIND reflects on what the pay equity settlement means for care and support workers and their employers.

I was told of a person working in a rest home who is much loved and respected, who came over from the Philippines with her family in the 1980’s.

This lady, like many of New Zealand’s 55,000-strong care and support workforce, is excited about the government’s decision to increase wages after its historic pay equity settlement.

She’s a perfect example of our care and support workforce, that is, female, aged over 45 and often with English as a second language, whose job is to provide necessary services to our elderly and disabled with patience, compassion, professionalism and a good deal of common sense. Back in her day, formal qualifications for the health and wellbeing sector weren’t required, and thanks to the support of her employer, she gained the old National Certificate through a work-based training programme.

While many support workers are celebrating the arrival of pay equity, to qualify for the various wage increases, they need to hold a Level 2, 3 or 4 New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing issued by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), the entity whose function under the Education Act of 1989 includes the recognition of overseas educational and vocational qualifications.

If they don’t have one of these New Zealand Certificates, another option is to have a qualification (whether from New Zealand or overseas recognised education provider) that is recognised by the NZQA, who guide the relevant industry training organisation, as being equivalent to the above qualifications.

This is where Careerforce, as the Industry Training Organisation (ITO) for the health and wellbeing sectors, has been tasked under new legislation to take on a new role to support the recognition of the health care and disability support workforce.

It’s pertinent to remember that these New Zealand Certificates are still a very new initiative, having emerged off the back of the NZQA-led Targeted Reviews of Qualifications, or TRoQ.

This included extensive industry consultation throughout the health and wellbeing sector and resulted in a massive clean-out of the New Zealand Qualification Framework, scrapping national certificates and diplomas and the creation of a new suite of New Zealand qualifications that are smaller, simpler and more relevant to sector needs.

So many of the older members of New Zealand’s care and support workforce do not hold the New Zealand Certificates that are required to qualify for the pay equity wage increases. Many of them hold National certificates, or any number of the hundred or so care and support qualifications offered by various training institutions prior to the TROQ review.

Determining whether these qualifications are equivalent to the New Zealand Certificates is of fundamental importance to the hardworking care and support staff, who nobody can begrudge wanting to be paid more than the minimum wage, and their employers, who are also coming to terms with the economic reality of pay equity.

As the new legislation requires these qualifications to be a Level 2, 3 or 4 New Zealand certificate in Health and Wellbeing from an NZQA accredited provider or a qualification that has been assessed relevant and equivalent by Careerforce, who act on NZQA’s guidelines.

So, Careerforce are now assessing numerous existing or expired care and support qualifications against our current New Zealand Health and Wellbeing qualifications, to determine what level of equivalency they relate to for pay equity purposes.

We’re now receiving around 150 email requests and phone calls per day about qualifications that may or may not be relevant to care and support roles and while it’s a busy time for us, we’re proud of the fact that the New Zealand government has recognised our standing in the Tertiary Education, Health and Wellbeing sectors and has named us to lead this qualification equivalency process.

In early June, 2017, we were asked to take on this enormous role, which is of fundamental importance to the sectors we support.

We have teams establishing the relevancy of these qualifications and we’ve set up a dedicated pay equity team to understand and support the needs of the workforce and develop appropriate workplace training supports.

It’s important for us to stress that Careerforce have no discretion about recognition of qualifications that have been assessed by NZQA. Careerforce’s involvement is purely in the assessment of the equivalency of qualifications, not the tasks that a qualified employee is expected to undertake in a workplace.

While many are celebrating the arrival of pay equity, we are also very aware of the pressures facing many of our workplaces and are continuing to support employers in our traditional role as an Industry Training Organisation to keep up the great work they’re doing in the professional development of their workforce.

Ray Lind is the Chief Executive of Careerforce, the Industry Training Organisation for the health and wellbeing sectors.

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