The last week ended with the news that unemployment in New Zealand was continuing to increase and was now at 7.3%. Maori unemployment is at 15.1% while Pacific Island levels are at 15.6%. Furthermore 113,000 workers want more hours but the work just isn’t there.
Remember that these figures are based on those “actively looking for work”. They do not include those who are not looking for work and this would include quite a lot of young people. The unemployment rate for youth world-wide and especially in developed economies is showing a worrying rise – New Zealand stands at around 25% nationally with both Maori and Pacific Islands over 30%.
Add to this the NEETS and you have a lot of New Zealand’s population not working. You do not have to be a wizard to see a crisis in the making here which will take a a very long time to pull around. Action is called for.
But New Zealand has unprecedented demand for workers. The Christchurch rebuild, the leaky homes response and the general planned growth in the Auckland region will all require huge numbers of workers. With a little bit of imagination and some funding, the answer is there.
But what do we see?
There appears to be a recruiting campaign in the UK to recruit people to come to New Zealand to “help re-build Christchurch”. MP Nicky Wagner appears there and reports that interest was high. In fact the various spokespersons for this effort report interest running into the hundreds.
It is interesting to note that these kinds of efforts seem often to coincide with a rugby tour or major event such as the Olympic games!
So we are actively seeking overseas labour and skills instead of growing our own and remember that this should not just be at entry level but also up-skilling those already in industry to the levels needed to lead the enlarged workforce.
So what is happening? Well, the most notable recent contribution to all this in New Zealand has been the stripping of hundreds of training places out of the polytechnic system what would have provided those critical first steps that lead to the sorts of skills needed. There is no urgency at all being applied to solutions and the kind of emergency response needed to address the crisis.
The recently announced South Island initiative with 900 people being offered jobs after 6-14 months training is a start. But it is a small effort – even if the places can be filled from the South Island (and this will be interesting to see) it is not aimed at giving robust qualifications to people but seems instead to be an effort to produce hammer-hands, and shovel bearers. The inspiration for the programme is from the depression of the 1930s.
It would be better to seek inspiration in the 1940s. Between 1944 and 1953 New Zealand trained 7,000 ex-servicemen to help them find work after the Second World War. This was under the aegis of the Rehabilitation Board and the training was predominantly in building trades. What were they building in those days? Well, there was substantial Government involvement in building state houses for a start and the Government was still the major source of work-based training (80% of apprenticeships were with government organisations).
It was also out of this time that the special efforts in trades training such as the Maori Trades Training Scheme emerged. The Technical Correspondence Schools was started (later to morph into the Technical raining Institute and finally into the Open Polytechnic). The initial focus was on offering national training in trades subjects.
The current dangerous mix of unemployment and youth requires just this sort of response – a special effort to get young people into skilled work and at the same time seek solutions to other issues – Christchurch, Auckland, leaky homes and schools and refreshing and expanding the the national housing stock and suchlike. These are normal times and abnormal responses are appropriate.
But they can only probably come from the Government. Private industry seems no longer to have the appetite to see its role in training young people and receives little encouragement from a lack of incentives to do so and a schooling system that seems to want to hang onto young people regardless of outcomes. The default position for industry currently seems to often to be to seek skills in overseas markets.
The various crises we face have within them unprecedented opportunity to re-position New Zealand’s skilled workforce in a way that will serve the country well over a very long period. It requires a national effort – young people the length of the country could benefit from the demand for skilled people flowing from Christchurch and Auckland.