Odyssey Auckland has changed the face of peer support work in Aotearoa, developing and gaining approval for the first Peer Support in Addictions micro-credential in the country, with the support of workforce development council Toitū te Waiora. Peer support workers are a vital part of mental health and addiction services, providing a unique level of support and understanding, and growing the peer support workforce is a widely identified priority.

Dave Burnside greyed

Photo: Dave Burnside under the Pare at Odyssey Auckland

Thanks to changes in vocational education, people with lived experience of addictions can now gain a micro-credential that recognises those experiences and skills. ‘Peer Support 101 – Introduction to Lived Experience Peer Support in Addiction’, the brainchild of Odyssey’s Lived Experience Lead, Dave Burnside, was assessed by NZQA to have equivalency to a Level 3 micro-credential on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework in March 2022.

Dave said he appreciated support from Toitū te Waiora, one of the six recently established workforce development councils (WDCs), to help get the new micro-credential across the line with the NZQA. Mental Health and Addictions Lead Nicki Lishman and Qualification Systems Manager Dr James Dearnley from Toitū te Waiora – the WDC covering community, health, education, and social services – worked alongside Dave to navigate the system, provide advice and feedback, and help get the qualification recognised, something that has marked the start of a new training pathway for peer support workers.

“The Micro-credential in Peer Support in Addiction provides a solid foundation for mahi as a peer support worker from which people can then enrol into the peer support apprenticeship or other pathways in the Mental Health and Addiction sector. The micro-credential Dave has developed has the potential to make a key difference in terms of the growth of a competent, confident workforce,” Nicki said.

Since its approval, Dave reports being “bombarded” with requests, congratulations, and support, from around the country. “There’s huge excitement in the sector”, he beams.  “Because lifting the peer support workers is sure to lift the workforce as a whole,” he explains.

Peer Support 101 has now been delivered to around 200 people across Aotearoa, in both mental health and addictions settings, in Kaupapa Māori services, housing and other settings. The feedback has been extremely positive, and demand continues to grow. The training is just one of several offerings from the Odyssey Centre for Lived Experience Peer Support, ‘Taupae Wheako’, including Peer Support Role Clarity training for employers, managers and non-peer staff, Peer Group Facilitation, Peer Supervision and Coaching, and organisational recovery orientation and consultation, Dave explained.

Dave, who started his work at Odyssey as a peer support worker and is now the Lived Experience Lead there, said was all too aware of the need for a pathway for others wanting to take their life experiences and use them to help others. He said he has long seen the need for an entry-level qualification in peer support work, to get people into peer employment and staircase them on to other study options. “The lack of equitable funding at entry level has been concerning, but it is heartening to see an increased focus on this,” Dave concluded.

Not only does this micro-credential give employers confidence in their peer support staff, but it also gives the workers themselves the backing and certainty that they are on the right track. It’s a winning formula for everyone.