Keith Newman looks at how we’re tackling Hawke’s Bay’s low skills and no skills youth employment crisis.

A rapidly aging population coupled with the growing number of youth leaving school without the aptitude or attitude employers are looking for, presents a serious demographic challenge for Hawke’s Bay’s future economic and social wellbeing.

Hawke’s Bay Schools Trades Academy students at EIT

The region is bleeding school graduates as they head to university, the big cities or jump the ditch to Australia, leaving behind an abundance of under-skilled youth, while we weather an economic growth curve that’s looking distinctly limp.

Many school leavers, and those in employment limbo, aren’t considered ‘suitable candidates’ for the abundance of job opportunities in Hawke’s Bay.

In some parts of the wider region, Mãori comprise over 50% percent of the population, a high percentage of whom are under 25 and without jobs. That situation will escalate over the next decade unless current efforts across iwi, public sector agencies, schools, training institutions and private initiatives succeed in transforming them into productive members of the workforce.

Napier economist Sean Bevin stands by his 2009 regional survey, which warns of an evolving low-income population with its associated socio-economic deprivation, and the urgent need to train up young Mãori and Pacific Islanders.

His Demographic and Economic Growth Outlook 2015-2045, produced for the big three councils, predicted slowing natural population growth reaching 138,399 by 2045 then steady decline from about 2021. Complicating matters is a 68% increase in those aged 65-plus and a Mãori population increasing by 25%. All other population and age groups would be in free fall.

Currently there are around 77,000 people employed across the region from a current population of around 126,000. While unemployment has more than doubled to 2,599 since 2007, businesses often have to advertise beyond the Bay for basic labouring and medium-to-highly skilled positions.

Many of the 1,000 or so unemployed in the 16-24 age bracket could fill some of those positions, if they had the right work and life skills, could put in the physical effort, learn the basics of retailing or customer service and improve their attitude.

Sean Bevin’s six-monthly survey of 200 Napier businesses to March 2012 indicated 21% were struggling to fill positions. There were openings for advanced computer programmers, graduate lawyers, heavy diesel mechanics, hydraulic engineers, locksmiths, pest controllers, drillers, scaffolders, technicians, scientists, qualified agricultural and horticulture workers, food and beverage skills, chefs and in-home and health care.

Bevin says there are opportunities for manufacturing and factory staff, including in textile firms and the unique tanning industry cluster around Napier, although he wonders whether they’re doing enough to market and present themselves to the right candidates.

Part of the problem, he suggests, is that many young people are into design, fashion and communications, and don’t like to get their hands dirty. “Young people see manufacturing, engineering and this kind of factory work as dirty and unattractive, despite the fact you can make good, steady money.”

Trades skills in construction, painting, plumbing, electrical and mechanical areas are all in demand, and a growing number of firms are happy to offer on-the-job training or apprenticeships but often find a lack of suitable candidates, says Bevin.

That’s where that word kicks in again — attitude. “Some employers have told me they find it pretty difficult dealing with Generation Y who are pretty demanding and make it clear they’re well aware of their rights.”

Responsibly responsive

A number of social service agencies, businesses with a social conscience, training organisations and partnerships with friendly employers are trying to improve the pool of potential workers but it’s a complex challenge.

The Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) is refining several initiatives to prepare, advise, match and support students into career opportunities. EIT and Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Polytechnic merged in January 2011, partly to become more responsive to the needs of students and the marketplace.

An employment advisor, part of the YouthLink service, helps enrol youth in conjunction with the Youth Guarantees Initiative and the Hawke’s Bay Schools Trades Academy. Demand for Academy places was so high this year, EIT requested additional funding to boost student numbers from 100 to 150.

The free course, designed to identify clear pathways for further education, work experience and employment, provides practical training for students in hospitality, automotive, hair and beauty services, the trades, animal care, and sport and recreation.

EIT Trades Academy and business relationship manager, Paul Hursthouse, says many younger students don’t know where they fit in the market, what they want to do with their life or the opportunities that exist.

While it might be easy to get a 16 year old to take a course, he says they may not have the confidence to be placed in a job. “There are often real family issues to work through. In the end we’re providing intervention at the top of the cliff to prevent that person from becoming an unemployment statistic,” says Hursthouse.

Transitional agency exits

Hawke’s Bay’s Youth Transition Services (YTS), a 2007 Ministry of Social Services (MSD) initiative contracted to Taiwhenua Heretaunga, helped prepare 300 at-risk young people a year for the workforce.

“Every year we exceeded that – we couldn’t just turn people away. If we had the budget we could have taken on another 20%,” says general manager Nathan Harrington.

The service, which shut down at the end of June, filled an important gap for youth who had fallen through the cracks and were not in employment, education or training — NEET as the ironic new acronym would have it.

The programme was a safety net, catching 16-17 year olds who were ineligible for WINZ benefits but likely to end up in that growing queue. The majority approached YTS themselves or were referred by their families.

Some were at risk of dropping out of school, others had avoided any kind of education for some time or had sociological issues such as low self- esteem. “To get them into employment or study we needed to address drug and alcohol dependency and literacy and numeracy issues.”

Some youth career-based training schemes cost up to $4000 but even if student loans are approved that career might not suit. “They still have to pay the money back, it’s setting them up for debt and there’s no guarantee of a job anyway,” says Harrington.

The reality is, most employers are there to make a return for their investors and a profit for themselves. Unless candidates can show character traits such as honesty, punctuality, self-discipline and communications skills, they’re unlikely to get a look in.

Ironically, says Harrington, employers also prefer some work experience. “I’d like to see a lot more businesses giving these young people a bit of a break.” While seasonal jobs can help with work history his preference is full-time sustainable work, although he’s first to admit “those opportunities are not really there at the moment.”

Many completing the YTS programme are now back in school, involved in its NZQA training arm or part of the workforce; several larger companies have taken apprentices or are providing on-the-job training.

YTS is being replaced by the Youth Pipeline service which will kick in from about August, specifically targeting higher risk 16-17 year olds, which Harrington believes will leave a gap in the younger market. He’s concerned that if low-risk youth don’t get help “they tend to ratchet up to become medium and high risk”.

Challenge to employers

Some of that slack may be taken up by the Corporate Leaders in Kahungunu (CLiK) initiative, an iwi-led strategy that has sent out a wero, or challenge, to employers between Wairoa and Wairarapa to take on 400 unemployed Mãori youth by the end of 2013.

Throughout the Kahungunu rohe (region), there are around 1,700 Mãori youth on different benefits and even more not in school, training or employed, being financially supported by whãnau. At the 2006 Census, 19% of Ngãti Kahungunu youth aged 15-24 years were unemployed.

Leanne O’Neil, education and training tutor, Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga

CLiK is offering employer subsidies and hands-on job coaching. Ngãti Kahungunu, Economic Development Board co-chairperson Jody Hamilton, is confident of support from the health sector, local authorities and the manufacturing and food sector to complement foundation partners Unison and Hawke’s Bay Seafoods.

“Everyone is clear about the demographics of this region and where we’re heading. If you just look at Wairoa, where 62% of the population is Mãori, you realise you have to do something now.”

Hamilton, who is also a WINZ senior manager responsible for the national Mãori employment strategy, says CLiK is getting alongside business, discovering what they need and addressing youth issues to include a lack of skills or qualifications and attitude.

She says many Hawke’s Bay businesses will take an unqualified person as long as they have the right attitude. “Unison is a perfect example, they’ve taken on four young ones and purely through attitude they have prospered in their organisation.”

Hamilton’s also on the Business Hawke’s Bay advisory group, and says they’ve been “waiting for iwi to organise ourselves better” for economic opportunities. While some jobs may be entry level and the pay minimal, CLiK is asking potential employers to outline a career path so candidates receive some recognition for their training and skills achievements.

She says, during hard times Mãori are often the first to lose their jobs or when they do the training they find there are no jobs. “We need to strengthen the Mãori workforce so this is no longer the case…Now the iwi are saying everything we do has to be about job creation.”.

Another factor in getting young ones into the workforce, she says, is the level of family support “so someone’s kicking them out of bed at 6.30-7.00am to ensure they get to their job on time.”

Rise and shine

Certainly that’s the kind of wake-up call Agworks manager Dave Ryder says is essential in the seasonal sector. “You need good physical fitness and a good work ethic, including the ability to get up early and make your own meals.”

Ryder says there are plenty of opportunities for the motivated. “We can have people earning $1000 gross a week but if they have a few extra kgs around the belly they might be done by morning tea time.”

Agworks places a couple of hundred people, the bulk of them locals, into work each year; the ones with transferable skills can be gainfully employed for up to eight months. “It’s no good being the world’s greatest apple picker and the worst grape pruner.”

He says a number of schemes offer free training to prepare young people for this work. “We do shift employees between employers — the last thing we want is a good employee going somewhere else.”
One thing he’s noticed is that team work is becoming a thing of the past. “It used to be that teams worked together supporting the slower ones, which meant everyone made more money. Today it seems people are mainly interested in themselves.”

Shaping career paths

The Community Max scheme, promoted by Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule through the Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs has employed over 150 young people on community-based work. After further research it’s being superseded by the Youth Futures project, in conjunction with MSD and EIT, with increased focus on transitioning from school into training or employment across the region. Work experience and limited service volunteer schemes involving local employers are about to be escalated in line with efforts by Business Hawke’s Bay and CLiK.

High School’s Work Choice Day and the Careers Expo are also being reviewed and expanded.

EIT Trades Academy manager Paul Hursthouse, says: “With good guidance from a range of partners young people do transition successfully into work with the required attitudes and skills.”

Nino D’Esposito, Ngahiwi Tomoana, Charlie Kaka and Kevin Atkinson launch Corporate Leaders in Kahungunu (CLiK)

While most schools complain there aren’t sufficient resources for career counselling and advice, the Careers New Zealand website has heaps of tools and advice to help young people make smart study, training and work choices. “The reality is, it’s a very confused marketplace and young people struggle to get a good picture of what life can be like.”

He’s hopeful Vocational Pathways, being championed by the Ministry of Education, the Industry Training Federation and Careers New Zealand, may provide much needed direction. This allows youth to identify an appropriate cluster from the different subjects they can take at school to help define careers in manufacturing, agriculture, horticulture and other areas.

There are, however, lingering concerns that youth are reluctant to get involved in some industries, says Hursthouse, who’s also a member of the Hawke’s Bay Labour Governance Group. The horticultural industry came up short with focussed ‘pathways’ sessions in schools.

EIT faced similar issues with some of its courses, and a number of horticulture training groups across the country have pulled out. “It was the same for forestry. A few years ago we were desperate for forestry workers. We tried to pull together a forestry course but no-one wanted to do that job.”

So are these industries failing to market themselves appropriately or show an attractive career path? “The horticultural industry spent a lot of time and effort marketing themselves. They blame the career counsellors but are mindful of their lack of capacity, perhaps half a person for 600 kids. It’s a complex issue,” says Hursthouse.

Now there’s a further struggle with the Government urging tertiary institutions and industry training groups to develop courses targeted at carpenters, plumbers and engineers to help with the resurrection of Christchurch.

“Some question why we’re being subsidised to train up people to leave the district, others see tradespeople leaving anyway and think this is a way up to replace them. In the end we are part of a national network of provision — you can’t not support the Government.”

Holding on to jobs

According to the latest figures there are 18,087 individual businesses in Hawke’s Bay employing 73,850 people. The top employers are health, education and welfare; areas where opportunities can only increase as the population ages.

Tourism is the second highest employer alongside retail and hospitality where there’s a low pay stigma. Just under a third of our employment, and a third of our gross domestic product (GDP), comes from primary production, including food processing and manufacturing, where there are ongoing opportunities for employment.

While more jobs would clearly help, the challenge is matching openings with the right candidates in a market that is cautious about spending and employment. Since the downturn, people are holding more tightly to their jobs, particularly those near or at retirement age. There are concerns that many companies have no succession planning to replace older staff.

While a number of socially responsible companies want to provide youth employment they don’t want to get burned in the process. They do, however, seem increasingly interested in supporting specialised transition and training programmes that can help deliver a competent next-generation workforce.

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