Industry Leaders Forum: Rod Bentham, Executive Director, Careerforce (a business division of Te Pūkenga)

How was 2022 for Careerforce? What were the highlights? What were the challenges?

Like many organisations, the main challenge was the impact of Omicron on our business and the sectors we support. During the first half of 2022, while Omicron was at its peak, the challenge was to prioritise staff wellbeing and safety, while still focusing on maintaining our level of service to the employers we support. This is where our organisational culture came to the fore, as staff across the organisation stepped up to help each other out when needed.

2022 was also a time of significant change for Careerforce as we were officially welcomed into Te Pūkenga – The New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.  At the same time, we farewelled Jane Wenman, our hugely respected Chief Executive Officer.

Te Pūkenga was set up as part of the Government’s Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) and brings the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) and the arranging training activities of certain Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) together to create a national network.

This is an exciting evolution for Careerforce and will ultimately give learners more choices and flexibility in what, where, and how they learn. It is pleasing that the transition to date has been fairly smooth, although as we now move towards fuller integration across 2023, more significant change for staff may occur.

Over 2022, Careerforce was proud to launch updated and enhanced Level 2 and 3 cleaning training programmes that better reflect the constantly changing needs of the cleaning sector. Careerforce thanks the many industry specialists who provided valuable feedback to ensure these programmes remain fit for purpose and lead to meaningful career pathways. Among the changes are the additional compulsory unit standards associated with infection prevention and customer service techniques.

The trainee engagement initiatives introduced in 2021, continue and have been developed to help keep trainees motivated and on track with their learning. Trainees enrolled in Level 2 and 3 cleaning programmes receive a welcome pack, regular emails with a copy of their training progress report, gentle encouragement and training supports. Trainees now also have access to iportal, a secure portal giving them the ability to view their personal training progress on demand.

2022 has been another successful year for Careerforce, led by very strong growth in enrolments, no doubt due in part to free enrolments via the Government’s Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund (TTAF) which came to an end in December 2022. Although training will again be subject to enrolment fees in 2023, Careerforce has managed to restrict these to pre-2020 levels.

Careerforce was pleased to participate in the 2022 CleanNZ Expo in October, showcasing the Level 3 Cleaning programme.  An interactive session co-presented by Careerforce and Restore Clean & Restoration provided attendees with practical demonstrations on approved carpet cleaning methods and stain removal.

Other highlights include seeing a number of Careerforce staff achieve career milestones (such as completing undergraduate qualifications) and seeing how this has inspired their colleagues into their own development as a result; and attending trainee and apprentice graduation ceremonies in person for the first time in two years.

What are the company’s main priorities for 2023?

To date the transition to Te Pūkenga has not had any material impact upon our day-to-day activities, nor the way we work with our employers and learners. Perhaps the only real noticeable change has been the application of co-branding with Te Pūkenga.

2023 will however see the pace of change accelerate as the full integration of the 16 polytechnics and nine industry training organisations takes effect. There is a significant commitment to growing and better supporting work-based learning as a key outcome of RoVE, and the combined skills and experience of Careerforce staff will be critical to the longer-term success of Te Pūkenga.

We remain committed to minimising any disruption to our employers and learners as we progress through these organisational changes, and I am excited about the future opportunities that will be available to our employers and learners participating in work-based learning.

A key priority across 2023 is to maintain or lift our level of service while we fully integrate into Te Pūkenga. We will also be considering the opportunities for employer and learner value adds that integrating into a large education organisation will bring, and engaging in discussion with employers about how best to realise these opportunities. For example, joining Te Pūkenga provides access to a national network of English language teachers who could support staff for whom English is their second language.

Careerforce is also committed to supporting learner equity and celebrating the success of traditionally underserved learners. Over 2023, we will strengthen our activities to support our Māori and Pasifika learners as well as those with disabilities, and those requiring extra learning support.

What do you see as the main challenges the market is facing in 2023?

If we are to believe the economic forecasters, then ongoing high levels of inflation and potential recession will be the biggest issues in 2023.

This naturally means considering operational efficiency and monitoring cost. I would suggest it is also a time to analyse how productivity can be improved and whether investing in people (training) or plant can achieve this. This presents an alternative to simply cost cutting.

Currently cleaning qualifications are not in the Government’s ‘green list’ nor covered by a sector agreement. As a result, international fees will need to be applied to non-domestic (work visa) learners. This will create a barrier to training for some cleaning staff.

Just as severe workforce shortages continue to create significant challenges across the health and wellbeing sector, the same applies across the cleaning sector. We need to continue to promote cleaning as a vocation, and the career pathways available, supported by qualifications.

How do you see the cleaning industry evolving in 2023? 

I think that all industries need to be aware of disruptive technologies and how these could potentially impact their sector. The capability of artificial intelligence, the “internet of things,” and robotics is improving exponentially and is being utilised in increasingly diverse contexts.

Keeping informed of where and how disruptive technologies are being utilised is a key part of understanding and reacting the operating environment and could potentially offer a competitive advantage for early adopters.

What’s the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

The global pandemic has forced many businesses to adapt new ways of working and introduce highly flexible work arrangements (such as work from home) to retain staff and enable work/life balance.

As we move back to pre-pandemic settings, one of the biggest challenges for leaders is to reconnect people and teams and lead organisational culture while most staff remain in remote work settings.

Is there a message you would like to share with the industry?

The pandemic has certainly highlighted the essential role that cleaners play in our society as hygiene and cleanliness have been brought to the forefront. We would like to continue to see their visibility and profile elevated further and continue to remind people how cleaners are essential to the workplace.

We would like to see continued efforts to respect, recognise and appreciate the work that cleaners do, improved remuneration and to see more investment in skills development, supporting learning and improved career outcomes.

With Careerforce cleaning programmes, cleaners can gain the skills and knowledge needed to pathway from a Level 2 to a Level 3 qualification (with strands in specialist cleaning and supervision).

Finally, I’d just like the opportunity to thanks all the employers who have engaged with Careerforce over the years. This year is the end of an era as Careerforce fully integrates into Te Pūkenga and we say farewell to the Careerforce brand. Of course we will continue to provide the on-job training sought by industry, just via a different brand and structure.

This first appeared in the February issue of INCLEAN NZ magazine. 

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