New qualification a hit with trainees

The first two graduates of the new NZQA Procurement Qualification, and their assessor talk to Contractor about their experiences working through the latest tender evaluator qualification.

FOR MARION HENTON of Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Damien Wood of Whanganui District Council, June marked the end of what they both say was an empowering journey.

Course assessor Caroline Boot says the new qualification has taken the NZTA qualification required for qualified evaluators in the roading sector and opened it out to all of infrastructure (and arguably, any tenders in the public sector).

“Which makes it incredibly useful across the board,” she says.

The assessment process is also more structured and accessible for most candidates, she adds. “It’s based on a combination of observation, discussions, and written evidence of competence in the main tasks that are routine for most procurement professionals.

“We have also beefed up the section on procurement planning, as well as understanding and applying government Rules of Sourcing. That’s made the qualification perfectly tailored for government procurement people.”

On the assessment work Caroline says she gets every candidate to go to the initial two-day course, which sets them up with core understanding of the majority of the theory and gives her an opportunity to see them in action doing some of the assessment tasks.

“Following the course, there are four assignments (plus an additional assignment which is only needed if the first four are not done to Best Practice standards). It’s great that some of the work can be done based on real-life scenarios, if candidates have trouble finding their own suitable workplace example at the right time for assessment.

“The assignments cover preparing procurement plans, developing RFT documents, processing and evaluating tenders, and applying ethical standards and government Rules of Sourcing to their activities in their workplaces.

“We give the candidates templates to complete the assignments, so the assessment requirements are covered provided they answer all the questions in depth. The authenticity of each candidate’s work is demonstrated in a professional discussion, which provides a nice opportunity to discuss their procurement challenges, share war stories and give feedback.”

Caroline says most candidates take around one or two days to complete each assignment, and (depending on their employer) they can expect to spend some time outside work completing those assignments.

“It’s possible to complete the qualification in just a couple of months, but most people will take between six to 12 months to complete. That’s a heap better than the old version, which took years for most people.”

The graduates

Marion, who works full time, says her new qualification amounts to some of the most useful professional development she has undertaken.

“The initial two-day Clever Buying workshop was condensed and full-on, however, completing the assignments post-workshop was more relaxed.

“The training was practical and relevant to my role as I regularly run tender processes. I was prepared to do some of the work outside business hours, but it was helpful that I could use my own tenders for my post-workshop qualification assignments.”

She adds that the course material systematically stepped her through the stages of procurement from the initial planning, development of tender documentation, to the evaluation processes.

“From my perspective, working through the course guidelines/material I ended up with improved RFT/RFP documents and more streamlined evaluation processes. One aspect of the training I found particularly helpful was having Caroline available to mentor and advise when issues arose.”

Damien also works full time for a council and says, “The assessments gave me the opportunity to actively participate in the review of our council’s procurement documentation. All the activities within the assessment were of significant practical benefit – they challenged and extended my traditional way of thinking about procurement. I enjoyed the challenge this presented and implementing the learnings into our organisation.”

Asked if the qualification helped with her council’s procurement processes, Marion says the new procurement procedures qualification means tender documentation can be tailored more succinctly, which will make evaluation quicker and easier.

“RFT/RFPs will be appropriately matched to the level of complexity, dollar value, risks/opportunities,” she says.

“Well-crafted RFTs save everyone time and money and most councils are risk-averse. The training covers ethical and legal scenarios and how to reduce the risk of legal challenges.”

When asked the same question, Damien say the tasks he went through to become qualified, included introducing items and processes of real benefit to both his council and its suppliers. “One of the most beneficial aspects of my learnings has been around consideration of the information request as part of the RFX documents.

“In the past, we have often been guilty of asking for unnecessary information that adds no value to the evaluation process. Thanks to the qualification, I am now in a position to challenge this thinking and influence change.”

The council recognises the importance of keeping the process as user-friendly and efficient to attract the best suppliers to respond to tenders. “There’s still more work to do, but we have come a long way, and had positive feedback from contractors.”

Marion also says her council suppliers, especialy contractors, have also benefited. “The feedback we have had is that our RFT documents are clearer, less hassle to complete and more relevant than the old ones.

“Tenderers were able to tell at a glance whether (or not) they have the capability/capacity to supply the goods or services, so that saved time and costs for them too.”

Both graduates say the course helped them understand and apply government requirements in procurement.

Says Marion: “I wasn’t familiar with the government Rules of Sourcing until I completed the procurement qualification. The resource was there but I wasn’t referring to it. The last assignment (which was introduced for the new qualification, but was not in the old one) really pushed me to think about how our council’s processes should reinforce ethical practice and give effect to the government Rules of Sourcing.

“I’d recommend this course/qualification to anyone working in procurement. There’s not many qualifications where you get to directly apply the exercises/assignments to your day-job. This is practical, applicable learning-on-the-job.”

Damien says his study forced him to look into the procurement rules in greater depth and has certainly sparked an interest in both local and central government procurement processes.

“As a result of looking deeper I have become frustrated with some of the mixed messages presented by central government agencies.

“Tender evaluation and transparent scoring of tenders is generally not well done within the industry.

“Documenting the process and clearly defining what constitutes a fail are areas where urgent work is required.

“Unlike other procurement training courses this one provides you with a real qualification that is of benefit to you, your employer, the suppliers and the community.”

More than 40 candidates are now working through the New Zealand Certificate of Infrastructure Procurement Procedures, and are involved in a wide variety of procurement areas, including water and wastewater, parks facilities, construction projects, facilities maintenance and many other sectors, as well as those from the transport and roading industries.

While most candidates are employed within NZTA and Local Authorities, there is rapidly growing interest from other government agencies, including ministries, departments, and district health boards.

At least 20 more people are expected to graduate with this new version of the NZQA procurement qualification by the end of this year, say Caroline Boot.

“The skills that are trained and assessed through this qualification will have a significant effect on the efficiency of government procurement,” she says.

“The qualification will help procurement staff to plan their tenders thoroughly; develop RFT documents that are straightforward to respond to and have clear scoring criteria; follow fair and cost-efficient evaluation processes, and incorporate robust ethical standards and relevant government Rules of Sourcing into their procurement processes.

“Best of all, this qualification will help clients and suppliers to engage more efficiently and deliver better value for public money.”

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