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Trouble in training

Industry Training New Zealand (ITNZ) New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) Featured Image

If extractive industry training didn’t have enough problems, one of four private training enterprises, and its subcontracted trainers, has lost its NZQA Unit Standard accreditation.

Industry trainers are in short supply as the quarry industry, with urgency, brings a large number of manager qualifications up to new levels before a January deadline.

Prior to August there were four major private training companies providing NZQA endorsed Extractive Industries unit standards: ACT Safety; Mines Rescue Trust; Tai Poutini Polytechnic; and Industry Training New Zealand (ITNZ).

Back in August, ITNZ and its nine contracted trainers were notified by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) that it had withdrawn its consent for ITNZ to assess against unit standards in the extractive industries sub-field. ITNZ was, at the time, in the middle of negotiations to have NZQA approve its subcontracting agreements following a ‘monitoring visit’ back in May.

Trainees who were working towards unit standards with ITNZ trainers at the time, were told they had to make alternative arrangements to complete their training.

This move not only took out eight trainers who have trained many of the quarry managers around the country, but could have caused delays getting workers qualified to meet the new WorkSafe requirements. It also left these training veterans and their reputations, feeling very vulnerable, and they are now demanding answers.

What is ITNZ?

Industry Training NZ is a subsidiary of the Buller Community Development Company (BCDC), a commercial training provider and non-profit organisation set up in 1989 to create jobs and develop businesses in the Buller District.

ITNZ was registered in 1994 and has operated as a Private Training Enterprise (PTE) specialist in NZQA accredited training in the quarrying and surface mining sectors until August this year.

NZQA says the original reasons the NZQA provided for the special PTE visits in May included:

“Recently gazetted requirements for Certificates of Competence which included new safety-critical unit standard requirements; anticipated volume of trainees needing to up-skill during 2015; the relatively small number of trainers with the necessary knowledge and experience to deliver some of the unit standards in question; and anecdotal feedback that had been provided to WorkSafe about the quality of training across the sector.”

The May 7 monitoring visit to ITNZ, which was jointly conducted by NZQA and MITO, found the company ‘non-compliant’ in relation to its subcontracting arrangements with its nine trainers, and issued a compliance notice requesting it stop delivering Unit Standards until it applied for, and obtained, approval from NZQA for its subcontracting arrangements. A deadline was given of June 3.

Both BCDC and ITNZ stress they were ignorant of the agency’s subcontracting rules and any non-compliance in relation to subcontracting. It was also the first time, they say, anybody had alerted them to the fact there was a problem, and they were keen to have the situation rectified.

ITNZ general manager Bruce Hamilton adds, that in the year leading up to the visit, the company had not received one complaint against its training or trainers.

“Sure, time to time over the year you get a niggle from a disgruntled trainee, but these were always resolved.

“But we didn’t receive one complaint from a government agency over how we trained or what we trained.”

Following the NZQA and MITO visit to ITNZ, the company was issued with a Compliance Notice Issued Under Section 255(2) of the Education Act – C19479 on May 19.

During May and June meetings between ITNZ and NZQA management were held. On June 12 the NZQA accused ITNZ of unit standard training that had been carried out against its May 19 instructions. Soon after ITNZ sent a notice to its subcontractors iterating that no training could be done through its company and confirmed to NZQA that no unit standard training was being undertaken. Between then and mid July ITNZ, as Q&M understands, negotiated with the agency over Applications for Subcontracting Arrangements and this included draft Subcontractor Agreements and contractor CVs for review and comment.

On July 22, the NZQA notified ITNZ that is was considering withdrawing its consent to Assess Against Standards in the Extractive Industries Sub-Field – C20055.

On July 31, ITNZ wrote to NZQA’s acting chief executive arguing that it thought it was clear that the company complies with many aspects of the legislative requirements and had initiated actions to comply with the other NZQA subcontractor requirements. It also applied for an extension under the Education Act 1989 Section 255(6) and 233D(3)(b)(c) for NZQA to provide ITNZ with the following:

  • An opportunity and reasonable timeframe to complete the necessary actions to meet all the legislative requirements in relation to the use of its industry expert subcontractors.
  • An opportunity to interact and correspond meaningfully with NZQA in relation to specific requirements.

“ITNZ is confident that it would be able to fully address all outstanding compliance areas by 20 August 2015, as it has now appointed a quality assurance advisor to drive the process,” the letter said.

An exchange of intent from the NZQA and defence from ITNZ ended less than two weeks later on August 11 when the authority publicly notified it had “withdrawn Industry Training New Zealand Limited’s (ITNZ’s) consent to assess against standards in the Extractive Industries sub-field, effective immediately. This means ITNZ is no longer able to deliver, assess, or report these unit standards.”

What the NZQA says

Q&M approached the NZQA and MITO with a series of questions raised by various industry quarters.

Did NZQA and MITO audit all four major extractive industry PTEs over the past 12 months? If so, were there any other ‘subcontractual agreement’ discrepancies?

NZQA and MITO conducted joint monitoring visits during May and June 2015 to all four tertiary education organisations that actively provide extractives training. The visits were not “audits”, but a range of issues was covered with each organisation to ensure that they were well placed to respond to the increased industry demand for training during 2015.

The organisations visited had different operating models and NZQA gave holistic consideration to these during the visits.

NZQA did not identify any concerns about subcontracting at providers other than ITNZ, but has subsequently followed up with one other provider to ensure that it is fully compliant with NZQA’s rules.

Why had the issue of subcontractor agreements at ITNZ not surfaced before May this year? ITNZ says it had already been audited by NZQA “on a regular basis”?

NZQA has not conducted “audits” of providers since the introduction of the Evaluative Quality Assurance Framework (EQAF) in 2011. Under EQAF, NZQA’s External Evaluation and Review (EER) uses evaluation indicators to focus on providers’ educational performance and capability in self-assessment. The compliance of contractual documentation with the subcontracting rules was not within the scope of ITNZ’s last EER.

It is the providers’ responsibility to be aware of and ensure that they are compliant with all of NZQA’s rules. NZQA acknowledges that some providers have been unaware of their obligations under the subcontracting rules. Whenever unapproved subcontracting comes to NZQA’s attention, NZQA gives the provider one or more opportunities to rectify the situation in the first instance. This was the case with ITNZ.

ITNZ says it was in negotiations with NZQA and waiting on a response to its new subcontractor agreements and training schedule at the time you announced the withdrawal of unit standard accreditation. Considering the impact this decision made on industry training at such a critical time, the speed at which it happened, and the fact ITNZ has been training unit standards since 1994 – why wasn’t NZQA more ‘conciliatory’?

NZQA originally issued a compliance notice to ITNZ to fix the subcontracting non-compliance. ITNZ did not do so within the required time and in fact it came to NZQA’s attention that ITNZ had continued to enter into new unapproved subcontracting arrangements. Despite this, NZQA gave ITNZ more time and did not take withdrawal action as a result of failing to comply with the compliance notice. This gave ITNZ the opportunity to make the necessary application for approval of subcontracting. The standard of the applications received gave NZQA further grounds for concern over ITNZ’s subcontracting model. As a result of all these concerns, NZQA issued a notice of intention to withdraw ITNZ’s consent to assess in extractives. NZQA considered and analysed ITNZ’s submissions on the withdrawal and concluded that there were clear grounds to proceed to withdraw the consent to assess.

NZQA/MITO say the monitoring visits in May were a response to several factors, including: “Anecdotal feedback that had been provided to WorkSafe about the quality of training across the sector.” How much does ‘anecdotal’ evidence (or unofficial complaints) count in NZQA assessments of a PTE? Were any complaints formalised? Did the auditing provide any evidence to back up that ‘anecdotal’ feedback about training quality? If so, is that going to be made public if requested?

NZQA’s actions are always evidence-based, take into account all available information, and assess the reliability and significance of each piece of information. While the industry feedback provided to WorkSafe was one of the contributing triggers for NZQA deciding to carry out monitoring visits, the visits had a broad focus and were not complaint investigations.

The evidence gathered by NZQA at the visits led to subsequent compliance action in respect of ITNZ.

We are told that MITO had a beef with the way ITNZ carried out its training, which was market led. That is individual unit standards were taught based on ‘demand’ rather than set scheduled courses. Is that true? If so – why is this a problem?

NZQA is not aware of this. NZQA has conducted proactive visits to all providers delivering extractives training – not just ITNZ.

Has the door been closed on ITNZ’s unit standard accreditation? Can it reapply?

No, however any new application by ITNZ for consent to assess in extractives would need to address the matters that led to the withdrawal of the consent to assess to NZQA’s satisfaction. ITNZ would need to show that it fully understood its responsibilities and that it would meet them.

Does the law about subcontractor agreements affect PTE training in other industry sectors?

The subcontracting rules apply to delivery of all unit standards, all training schemes, and all programmes. They apply equally to public sector and private sector providers.

Would it have made a difference if ITNZ had been using employees as trainers and not subcontractors?

It would have made a difference in respect of taking subcontracting issues out of the equation.

NZQA said that the May “proactive monitoring visits to all providers that are actively delivering extractives training” was done in “in close collaboration with WorkSafe”. Can you elaborate on what part WorkSafe played in the NZQA/MITO assessment of ITNZ?

WorkSafe provided information to NZQA about the context of the extractives industry and the new regulatory requirements. NZQA sought WorkSafe’s feedback about the scoping of the monitoring visits. The actual visits were conducted solely by NZQA and MITO, and WorkSafe did not take part in the assessment of ITNZ or any other provider.

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