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Backgrounder: Community Employment

Backgrounder: Community Employment

Community Employment moving to Department of Labour

Cabinet has decided that the Community Employment function of the Department of Work and Income is to transfer to the Department of Labour with its own management structure reporting to the Chief Executive. This decision reflects a commitment to re-establish the capability of Community Employment in order to support the government’s community employment development strategy.

What is community employment development?
The fundamental goal of local community employment development is to provide economic and social benefits to the community by creating wealth and employment among the people that make it up. While employment and economic development are seen as central to this goal, community employment development also promotes social cohesion and takes a holistic approach to problem solving.

It promotes this holistic approach because in communities with high levels of unemployment and benefit dependency unemployment is usually just one aspect of broader social and economic difficulties including poor health, low incomes and inadequate housing.

Communities have varying levels of financial, natural and human resources and, consequently, different levels of needs. Community employment development works from a bottom-up approach, promoting local solutions to local problems. It fosters partnerships between communities, business and local and central government.

What does Community Employment do?

Community Employment works with communities and groups to help them create local opportunities for employment and self-sufficiency. Community Employment’s focus is communities and groups whose members are particularly disadvantaged in the labour market. These disadvantages may be experienced by a large number of individuals within the community or by the community as a whole. They may, for example, arise from a lack of appropriate skills, distance from paid employment or from a significant local labour market shock such as the closure of a major employer.

Community Employment bases its work around locally identified needs and resources, helping communities to devise and implement their own local
solutions to local problems. Community Employment’s extensive background in working with Mäori and Pacific communities is a particular strength.

Activities are focused primarily on five priority groups that face the most difficult social, economic and employment problems: Mäori, Pacific peoples, women, rural and urban disadvantaged communities.

Community Employment works largely at the micro level, facilitating opportunities through:
 community capacity building
 community-based strategic planning
 leadership development
 providing information, advice and support
 building partnerships and networks between communities and the public and private sectors
 brokerage of access to financial, technical and expert assistance
 promoting and supporting initiatives that may be useful models for other communities
 communicating lessons that other communities have learned
 providing small, one-off grants to kick-start projects
 low-cost testing of innovative employment and local development initiatives

This approach offers many advantages. It:
 encourages community ownership of projects
 is flexible enough to respond to local needs and initiatives
 can foster a wide variety of innovative solutions to complex problems
 allows assistance to be directed to groups who are generally more difficult to reach, and
 contributes to social cohesion at the community level.

Complementing this approach are major partnership initiatives such as those with Lincoln University’s Community Information Service and with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. The University’s expertise and access to information is available through Community Employment Advisers to communities nationwide;

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through the Union, a variety of tailored initiatives are being established using local rugby clubs and their access to people, skills and resources as a catalyst.
Work is also underway to help communities take advantage of the opportunities offered in other areas, for example new technologies, and zero waste strategies being undertaken in partnership with communities and local government.

A 1999 Community Impact Study of 100 projects supported by Community Employment found that 713 people gained employment either during or after the project, 360 people undertook training and a further 36 began Community Taskforce placements. In addition, involvement in Community Employment projects was found to offer informal training in, for example, planning and administration; contribute to work readiness and develop social networks. An evaluation of the Community Employment’s service delivery to women in 1998 found that broader social outcomes of the employment development work included improvements in participants’ health and improved parenting skills.

During an evaluation of Community Employment’s Mahi a Iwi strategy, people interviewed described the strengths of the unit as: the field advisers’ skills, the way service is delivered to Mäori, the community focus, the ability to fund initiatives, networks, the on-going support provided to groups, and the advocacy and brokerage role played by field staff.

In particular, the evaluation report noted Community Employment’s strength in tikanga, its willingness to allow groups to use Mäori processes, and its commitment to Mäori values and a Mäori perspective.

Similar strengths were described by people interviewed during an evaluation of Community Employment’s Pacific People’s strategy. Community Employment was perceived as having a real interest in Pacific People’s development, as approachable and as respectful of cultural issues.

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