Career advice puts RNs and HCAs income prospects 'on par'

24 February 2016

Nursing is back up a notch as a 'good' job prospect in the latest Occupation Outlook report. But the government's annual career advice report is less optimistic about nursing graduates' income prospects, which they rate as similar to health care assistants (HCAs) and less than early childhood teachers.

Nurse leaders say the Outlook career report, by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), may be based on 'very simplistic' analysis and that registered nurse income prospects were clearly higher than HCAs.

The annual Outlook reports are intended by the Ministry to help young people and their families choose a career by rating the chances on graduating of getting a job in 60 key occupations as either 'limited', 'fair' or 'good' and the career's income prospects as either 'low', 'medium' or 'good'.

The 2015 Outlook had dropped nursing job prospects to 'fair' for nurses due to graduate in the next three to five years but the 2016 Outlook has swung that back up to 'good'. While the 2016 Outlook is more optimistic about nursing job prospects it is less so about potential income and hasn't changed its 'medium' income outlook for young nurses entering the profession. This is despite it increasing the income outlook for other professions that shared the same 'medium' income ranking as nursing last year.

So journalists, pharmacists, early childhood teachers, police and school teachers have all had their income prospects increased from 'medium' last year to "good' this year. But nursing and fire fighters have stayed stagnant at 'medium' and health care assistants have been increased from 'low' to join nurses as a 'medium' income prospect in the 2016 Outlook.

'Simplistic' analysis

Memo Musa, the chief executive of the New Zealand Nurses' Organisation, said the MBIE analysis of nursing job and income prospects may be "very simplistic".

He said for example there are many complex factors – including models of care, the ageing population, Vote health funding increases and migrant nurse trends – that if aligned and addressed together may result in increased job prospects for nurses graduating in five years time.

"If (these factors) are not aligned, and no constructive work happens to align these factors, then I would be cautious of MBIE’s assessment," said Musa.

Professor Jenny Carryer, executive director of the College of Nurses, agreed that the situation for registered nurse employment was '"extremely fluid". But she added that that the nursing shortages being increasingly reported internationally and the ageing of the nursing workforce must "inevitably impact" on the nursing job market.

Clear difference between income prospects

Musa also pointed out that difference in income prospects for RNs and HCAs were very clear in collective employment agreement.

The latest NZNO District Health Boards collective agreement shows that currently the four step HCA pay scale starts at just under $37,000 and stops at $42,650. The registered nurse basic salary scale currently starts at $48,479 and ends at $65,476 while the senior nurse scale starts at $69,480 and goes up to more than $110,000 for nurses appointed to some senior nursing roles.

The MBIE Outlook also shows nursing training fee costs being higher than teaching and journalism and being more on par with the training costs of physiotherapists, pharmacists and doctors whose income and job prospects are all ranked as 'good'.

The fee costs for training for the unregulated HCA workforce are shown as "low" and the job prospects as 'good'. Musa and Carryer pointed out that most HCAs are trained in-house so do not pay fees but this is also reflected in their long-term income prospects and the fact they in most cases work under the direction and delegation of registered nurses.

The Outlook for registered nurses notes that New Zealand has a growing nursing workforce and most nursing graduates get a nursing job in New Zealand within one year of graduating.  It also notes there is strong demand for mid-level registered nurses and for registered nurses in specialty areas. "Longer term, the prospects for this occupation are looking better given the increased life expectancy of the general population and the ageing nursing workforce in New Zealand."


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