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NZQA Unit Standards versus ISO 9001:2008 - What are the Advantages?

7 April 2016

NZQA Unit Standards versus ISO 9001:2008 - What are the Advantages?

You may have read VHNZ's article in February's Newsletter about ISO 9001:2008 accreditation and its benefits to your company. Here is some fundamental information about ISO 9001:2008 (or the revised version ISO 9001:2015):

  • ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organisation who develops International Standards in order to give "world-class specifications for products, services and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency". (More details about ISO here)
  • ISO 9001 is one of the standards within the range of ISO 9000 standards
  • ISO 9001:2008 is the title of a document (Standard) that outlines the requirements an organisation must maintain in their quality management system for ISO 9001:2008 certification
  • Meeting the requirements of this standard recognises that organisations have a quality management system that helps manage business effectively, provide better customer satisfaction, ensure continual improvement, and align with international best practice methodology.

Comparatively, here is some fundamental information about the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA):

  • NZQA is a publicly owned government organisation
  • NZQA administers the NZ Qualifications Framework (NZQF), which includes national qualifications and unit standards. (More details on the NZQF here)
  • Qualifications on the NZQF are quality assured
  • Unit standards have clearly specified outcomes, which can be compared with other national and international qualifications
  • Governing or industry bodies often specify unit standards in legislation or Approved Codes of Practice as a recommended (or mandatory) minimum qualification for operating a certain machine or working in a certain environment. For example the Approved Code of Practice for Cranes states minimum unit standards required to operate various types of crane.

In New Zealand, you can check the quality of a training provider by viewing their External Evaluation and Review (EER) Report; these are publicly available on the NZQA website (VHNZ's last EER report is here). The EER conducted by NZQA could be seen as the equivalent of the ISO audit, as both ISO and NZQA are auditing the providers QMS and how it is implemented. Although a significant difference is that while the EER Reports are public information, the ISO audit feedback is not, as the provider has chosen to apply to gain ISO accreditation and pay for the audit as part of the process.

An obvious benefit to completing NZQA aligned qualifications is that trainees' will have any successfully achieved unit standards or qualifications added to their Record of Achievement (ROA). However, these may not be recognised internationally. In comparison, a non unit standard based qualification issued by VHNZ and therefore underpinned by ISO 9001 accreditation would be recognised internationally.

Training aligned to NZQA unit standards is accepted practice in NZ as units are measurable, have specified outcomes and are nationally recognised. However for businesses, the prescriptive nature of NZQA unit standards may not always meet the specific requirements for your staff or work environment, such as on occasions when they fall outside acceptable work practices. In this case, a training provider such as VHNZ that has met ISO's audit requirements could customise training that is 'fit for purpose' for your organisation, and that training therefore benchmarked against international quality standards. This assurance of quality applies whether or not the training is aligned to NZQA unit standards or qualifications.

So while there are advantages to training that is aligned to NZQA unit standards, for training providers who have gained ISO 9001 accreditation, this proves their quality systems have been recognised as aligning with international best practice methodology, and therefore quality underpins any training they deliver whether NZQA aligned or not.