Increasing our understanding of roles that are similar to social work

We are working to better understand kaimahi/workers who are doing mahi that is the “same or substantially similar” to the mahi of registered social workers. The opportunity to undertake this work arose from the pay equity extension for social workers in the iwi and community sectors. We want to build a better collective understanding, including any public safety considerations.

The SWRB has been learning more about kaimahi/workers who are doing mahi that is ‘substantially similar’ to that of registered social workers. This work arose from the pay equity extension for social workers in the iwi and community sectors. We were asked to build a better understanding, including how public safety could be strengthened. 

Usually, the work we do as SWRB focuses on social workers – those who are registered. This is both in our role as a regulator, and also as the lead agency for social worker workforce planning. The work to increase our understanding of roles similar to social work is not connected to the SWRB’s regulatory functions.

Why we have done this mahi

The social work pay equity extension for government-contracted professionals includes those who are not registered social workers, but who undertake work that is the ‘substantially similar to social work’. These kaimahi are in roles where registration is not required. However, there has been limited understanding of these kaimahi and their work, and the professionalism and safety of this workforce.

For further information on the social work pay equity extension, please see the Public Service Commission Extension of Pay Equity website.  

How we increased our understanding of this workforce

To increase our understanding of these kaimahi and their work, we engaged with the sector in three different ways. Firstly, we held kōrero with social worker sector leaders and experts. These included government officials and NGO leaders who gave us insight into the complexities of the social worker-like workforce/s. This engagement not only highlighted the valuable mahi these unregulated workers are doing in their communities, but also the gaps within the current regulatory framework. 

Following this kōrero, we ran a survey to help us gain more insight into the different workforce/s in community and iwi organisations that are doing this work. The survey was designed to capture information from the perspective of organisations, employers and employees.

After reviewing the survey feedback, we invited survey respondents and others who had expressed an interest to further engage with us. We held a series of hui including hui for specific service areas, and with community organisations. Kōrero was with both kaimahi and their kaiwhakahaere/ managers to gain different perspectives on these people and this work. 

Highlights of what we heard 

There were a number of insights that we gained from our conversations with the sector. These include: 

  • A wide range of role titles are in use, even if roles are similar. Examples include Kaimahi, Family support worker, Case worker, Community connector, navigator. 
  • While most people said they had been in the Social Services sector for less than four years, a significant proportion have worked in the sector for 15 years or more. 
  • Kaimahi told us they bring a wide range of qualifications (degrees, diplomas and certificates) into their roles. Disciplines include psychology, education, nursing, counselling, health and wellbeing, financial mentoring, mental health, whānau ora and indigenous health. 
  • Over three quarters of people said the main focus of their mahi is child, youth and whānau family support work. 
  • Almost everyone said the most rewarding part of their job is serving/working with/supporting whānau and their community, and making a difference to people’s lives.  
  • A mix of models is being used across organisations, with some clearly differentiating between the work registered social workers carry out versus the work of social worker-like kaimahi, while in others they are doing the same or similar work. 

Related work on public safety

We have also looked at how public safety is addressed in similar professions in New Zealand (engineering associates, legal executives, and enrolled nurses) and in the social worker space in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ontario Canada. 

What we have done with this information and where to from here 

The SWRB has seen this as an important opportunity to identify and recognise this workforce, and acknowledge the valuable mahi these professionals are doing. Through this work we have gained a better understanding of the role these kaimahi/workers play in the sector, and are advising Ministers and government agencies about these roles and the contribution they make to the iwi, communities, whānau and people they work with. This is just one small piece of the puzzle, and other work is happening elsewhere in government where we will seek to continue to offer a contribution. 

You can contact the team at:

Page updated 05/04/2024