EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & REGISTRAR, NOVA SCOTIA COLLEGE OF SOCIAL WORKERS
How the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers streamlined the licensing process and dramatically reduced candidacy program turnaround time.
Location: NOVA SCOTIA
No. of LICENSEES: +2,600
In 2017, when its paper-based system and “clunky” database proved too inefficient for staff, licensees, and members, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers started looking beyond the province’s borders for a new way to manage licensure and association membership. What it found would radically change how college staff process membership and manage the more complex requirements of its Candidacy Membership Program.
The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW) is tasked with protecting the citizens of Nova Scotia by effectively regulating the profession of social work. Formerly called the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers, a 2016 amendment to the province’s Social Work Act renamed the organization, and it now serves as both regulator and association for the field of social work.
Central to NSCSW’s mandate is managing the licensure and membership of about 2,600 licensed social workers and association members, which it accomplishes with its staff of six. Additionally, the college also oversees an area unique to social work regulation: the Candidacy Membership Program (CMP), which is meant to ensure new graduates have the skills, competence, and good character to practice social work in Nova Scotia.
Allowing for the transition to portal
Members are now able to seamlessly upload and manage documents online
of members thought the college was heading in the right direction after the change in technology
Costly and inadequate paper-based process and a clunky database system
Like many regulators, NSCSW previously managed social work licensure and association membership through a combination of paper and database software.
“Everything was done on paper,” says NSCSW Executive Director and Registrar Alec Stratford, explaining how staff managed membership. “Administrating things through paper is terribly inefficient, costly, and not necessary in a digital age.”
Although it was implemented in part to deal with the paper problem, the database solution adopted by the college proved too inefficient for staff, licensees, and members.
Strain on service levels
“Our older database system was not super intuitive and rather clunky,” says Stratford, adding that licensees, applicants, and members often struggled to log into its web-based portal for applications and renewals. Further, the database vendor failed to provide adequate customer service, suggesting Stratford “hire a programmer” to resolve an ongoing software issue.
“The previous system just really was not meeting our needs,” he explains. “Administration in the back end of the system was not super-intuitive or streamlined. And again, it really came back to customer service as well.”
Unable to manage unique regulatory requirements
In addition to the challenges presented by a paper-based system and an unwieldy database, neither could sufficiently manage the college’s more nuanced CMP requirements.
These challenges led Stratford to seek a new solution to replace their manual paper-and-database system.
Regulator peers steer NSCSW towards Thentia Cloud
To find a new solution, Stratford first sought advice from his peers in social work regulation across Canada. He spoke with counterparts in Manitoba only to learn they, too, were looking for a new licensing solution after disappointing results from the very same vendor NSCSW was using. Further inquiry led him to colleagues in British Columbia, who reported positive experiences with Thentia, a then-fledgling licensing software vendor eager to help regulators like NSCSW transform the licensing experience for regulators and licensees.
Thentia was already becoming known to regulators across North America for developing Thentia Cloud, an all-in-one platform to help regulators streamline and simplify licensing, continuing education, compliance, and investigations.
After evaluating multiple vendors, NSCSW chose Thentia based on these criteria:
Digitization of Candidacy Membership Program (CMP)
“Thentia came in with a proposal that could really modernize many of our operations, including some of our more unique programs,” Stratford explains, highlighting the CMP as a dimension of operations that defies easy digitization. In order to bolster a licensee’s capacity to meet requirements related to ethics and standards of practice with proven mentorship activity, the CMP involves recording how many hours an applicant has spent with a mentor, validating comprehension of learning agreements, monitoring mentor participation, and exchanging several written reports with the regulator.
Despite its complexity, the CMP would prove easy to manage with Thentia Cloud, which NSCSW adopted in 2017 after gaining confidence it was capable of meeting both the regulator’s straightforward and more nuanced requirements.
Reference Collector Program
In order to facilitate the transition to Thentia Cloud for licensees, NSCSW published a blog to give them the exact information they would need to adapt to the new system (such as getting used to multifactor authentication). This anticipatory action helped licensees while saving themselves the need for a phone call.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & REGISTRAR, NOVA SCOTIA COLLEGE OF SOCIAL WORKERS
Reduced costs and increased resources available for higher level regulatory work
Stratford reports enormous savings due to the automation of much of the licensing process and digitized CMP. “If we didn’t have Thentia Cloud, I would probably need two full-time staff members to replace what it does,” he explains. Additionally, he acknowledges that the College has experienced further efficiencies by reducing the money spent on paper and mail.
60% reduction in paper handling
“What we were able to do when Thentia came online – particularly with the candidacy program – was transition completely away from paper and move everything into the portal, including the creation of learning agreements,” Stratford explains. “We now had the ability to approve those learning agreements and the ability to track candidacy progress and to provide evaluations, as well as easy access to be able to pull that data together in an easy form for final evaluation and approval. This was a big game changer for us.” Now the College only require paper documents for transcripts, criminal record checks and child abuse registry checks, their paper handling has reduced by approximately 60% overall.
24x faster CMP turnaround times
After implementing Thentia Cloud, NSCSW’s turnaround times for candidacy reporting dropped considerably as members were seamlessly able to upload, exchange, and manage all required documentation within the online portal.
“Before Thentia, candidacy reporting could be up to six months, which was ridiculous in terms of a turnaround time,” Stratford explains. “Now we have it set in policy that turnaround time is two weeks. But generally, it’s done within a week. Our administration of the candidacy program has been radically changed by what Thentia has been able to build for us.”
Streamlined renewal process
The renewal period can be a tense time for staff, particularly when they were reliant upon an older database system that was rather clunky. Thentia Cloud’s ability to save in-progress applications makes renewal applications considerably easier for administrative staff. “Before, if you didn’t complete the renewal, it wouldn’t save it for you and you had to restart, which was frustrating for many,” Stratford explains. “Not surprisingly, since implementing Thentia Cloud, many folks indicated the database as being a major improvement in their interaction with the college.”
Easy, fast workforce reporting
A recent expansion of workforce reporting requirements by the provincial government posed no challenge for NSCSW, since the new requirements occurred after the implementation of Thentia Cloud. “Very quickly, we were able to pull a report that the government was asking for from Thentia Cloud,” Stratford notes.
Critically, adopting Thentia Cloud prepared NSCSW for the seismic changes of 2020’s global COVID-19 pandemic. Since most of its processes had already been digitized, COVID-19 barely had an impact on the college’s operations.
“When the pandemic hit, everyone picked up and went home,” Stratford says. “We had one person rotating into the office every couple of days to get the mail, but there was really no interruption in our services when the pandemic hit.”
Happier membership due to more polished front-end system
Though NSCSW staff have benefitted from Thentia Cloud, licensees are also enjoying the switch. “I would say most folks appreciated the more streamlined, intuitive, and more polished front end,” Stratford reports.
While users once lamented NSCSW’s previous database, a recent evaluation of the regulator’s strategic plan revealed 75% of its membership thought the college was “headed in the right direction” with its technology offering.
It’s a direction that enjoys Stratford’s full confidence as he struggles to imagine what licensing activities would look like without Thentia.
“In terms of an overall cost-benefit analysis, we wouldn’t be functioning effectively without Thentia at this very moment.”
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