We’re in the care business, and we pride ourselves on our people and their qualifications, skills and attitude. So what we’ve just done may strike you as unusual. If it does I’d like your feedback. We’ve signed up to an agreement called NZ Talent, which says that for a range of specific, skills-based roles, we will not require applicants to hold a formal qualification.
Does that mean we’re lowering our standards? Not at all. It means we’re thinking very carefully about the future – our future, your future and New Zealand’s future. About how we can attract the best people for the job. We’re in good company: TradeMe, Vector, Fonterra, Spark, KiwiRail, Orion Health Fisher and Paykel Healthcare and Xero – all successful Kiwi businesses, all well-run – have also signed up to NZ Talent. In fact over 100 New Zealand companies have agreed to this initiative, which aims to address a critical skills shortage without compromising on quality.
Obviously many roles within Radius can only be filled by people with specialised qualifications. And, for those roles, our people do have those qualifications. All of our medical team – from our nursing staff, to dementia specialists, from on-call doctors to physio and occupational therapists – have successfully completed relevant, high-level tertiary courses. But for other roles, such as our activities co-ordinators, diversional therapists, catering and administrative staff, it’s a different matter. Skills are really important, attitude and aptitude are priorities, and good training is essential, but formal tertiary qualifications are not necessarily required.
Where people have the right skills and the right attitude, we don’t think that the lack of a formal qualification should stand in the way of a good person getting a good job – nor of our getting good capable can-do people.
We made the decision to sign up to NZ Talent for four reasons. Firstly, there is more than one way of acquiring skills: university training certainly has its place, but it is only one of many pathways. The skills we are looking for in prospective employees can now be developed in other ways. These might include internships, micro-credentials, on the job training and online courses. These pathways layer the critical skills that organisations like ours need on top of people’s natural talent, passion and potential.
Secondly, we believe that the pendulum has swung too far. We think that often undue emphasis is now placed on people having formal qualifications, and not enough on having practical skills, empathy and attitude. Don’t get me wrong. A degree certainly means something. It means you can think critically and communicate effectively. It means that you finish the things you start. But many skills can’t be learned in a classroom. You get them by observing, listening and making adjustments. You develop real expertise through training, coaching and mentoring. Acquiring skills is practical, it’s personal, and it requires perseverance. You need commitment, but you don’t need a degree. A degree, by itself, doesn’t necessarily give you all the relevant skills, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee you have the right attitude for dealing with and caring about people. And that’s a real priority for us.
We are not alone in thinking this. There’s a growing global demand for contemporary skills that are often learnt outside formal education programmes. In the UK, for example, Penguin Books, PWC, EY and the BBC have all made similar commitments.
Thirdly, we have to take into account the rate at which new technologies are affecting the workplace. They’re changing how services are delivered. Every day we learn new ways do to improve people’s lives. So, to perform effectively at work, people have to continue to acquire new skills throughout their careers. The amount of information we have to process increases every day. The ways we access information and acquire knowledge has changed beyond recognition. If you completed your degree a decade ago you would have had no formal exposure to the impact of smart phones and mobile technologies, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, social media or big data. Yet these innovations are all changing not only what we can do and how we do it, but what we can imagine doing. The only way to keep up is through a continuous process of workplace-oriented, tailored, non-formal education. You learn to work and you work to learn.
Finally, we think that making this commitment raises the stakes for us as a business. It means that we’re publicly acknowledging that we are responsible for the skills of our people. We can‘t simply point to their qualifications and say: “They have a qualification. Of course they can do the job.” It means that we have to place even more importance on our own training, monitoring and ongoing assessment programmes.
There is also a fifth reason, a personal one. Every CEO who signed up to NZ Talent will have a story to tell about why they’re making a stand and backing this initiative. Mine is simple: I don’t have a university qualification. I have amassed experience and expertise throughout my life. I have been a farmer. I’ve operated cranes. I’ve been in sales. And my personal view is, if a lack of formal training didn’t hold me back, why should it hinder someone else? If I see someone with drive and initiative, someone who is committed to providing the best care, someone still keen to learn, that’s someone I want to have working for Radius Care.
Does this mean we’re devaluing skills? Not at all. This is not about skills. This is about innovation, opportunity and quality of service. When you operate care facilities you want the best people you can get. They have to care about what they do and about the people care for. They have to understand why it matters. And they have to be highly skilled. None of that requires a degree.
What we want to do is reshape conversation about what it means to be talented. We think this will help make for a more diverse workforce. We think this will open up more employment opportunities for people who don’t feel comfortable in a university environment. And we think that, if the right training programmes are in place, it will help reduce the chronic skills shortages that beset our sector and many others.
What does it mean for our business? Principally we hope to have more outstanding people join us. They’ll be skilled – that’s a given. They’ll also be highly motivated and committed. And that can only be good for all of us.
At the outset I said I’d like your feedback. I meant it. If you think this is a good move, let me know. If you’re concerned that it might downgrade the quality of service we provide, tell me. I promise you I’ll listen.