Jobs and education - Jim Anderton
6 July 2000 Speech Notes
Jobs and education
Address to Canterbury Association of School Executive Officers
14th Floor, Grand Chancellor Hotel, 161 Cashell St., Christchurch.
9:15AM Thursday, 6 July 2000
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you today.
In your invitation you asked me to speak particularly about youth employment, education generally and about the coalition Government.
All of these are topics close to my heart as a politician.
I know that school executive officers have close experience of the pressures that the education sector has been under.
No one can better see the pressures on education budgets than those who have to daily make ends meet.
I know that you have a strong commitment to the future of the young people who move through your schools, as well.
I visit a great many schools around the country and all sorts of New Zealand communities.
The first point I want to emphasise is the passion and the commitment that is felt in the regions of New Zealand towards their local areas.
It gives me great optimism.
From one end of New Zealand to the other there are people who are passionate about what they are doing and what they want to do.
That is the solid foundation from which we can build.
People live in the regions because they want to be there.
They want to be able to continue to live there, get a job there, bring up their kids there and allow their children to get jobs there.
One of the common themes is the need to create employment.
That is the whole idea behind economic development.
There hasn't been a development dimension in New Zealand's economic policy for a generation.
The importance of economic development is to ensure that the regions where there is so much pride and passion about New Zealand need to be supported.
And we need to ensure that there are jobs.
There are nearly 200,000 jobless New Zealanders today.
The Treasury has prepared forecasts for the future cost of Superannuation.
Its forecasts predict that unemployment will remain at 6% of the workforce for the next fifty years.
I say that governments must not allow that social, economic and human catastrophe to occur.
The Government is trying to do something about it.
We're setting up a jobs machine.
We have established Industry New Zealand.
It opened its doors for business this week, even though it's not formally established in law until September.
It will invest in regions and in new industries in partnership with private businesses and with communities.
Solutions are being tailor made for different regions.
Every region is different.
In Southland when you ask, 'What do they want?' they say 'We have climate and soil potential here that exists nowhere else in the world.'
And to prove it they grow better hydrangeas than anywhere else in the world.
They sell each one of those stems in the Japanese market for $3.
Topoclimate in Southland was the initiative that started this off.
They are analysing every paddock in Southland and will match production to the soil type.
The local community started this initiative.
This government has given $1.8 million to help complete the project.
There could be 20,000 jobs over the life of the Topoclimate project.
We are responding to the needs of individual regions
We are investing in jobs and opening up opportunities for young New Zealanders.
There is also a need to look at the other end as well: at the skill levels of New Zealanders.
In a recent survey of business confidence in the Northern region, 44% of employers reported difficulties in recruiting skilled labour.
The skills shortage identified ranged all the way from illiteracy and innumeracy to low levels of trade and technical training and a shortage of relevant tertiary qualifications.
It is true that better skills alone will not resolve the problem of unemployment.
No matter how skilled we made our young people today, if they all turned up at Parliament and asked for a job tomorrow, there wouldn't be enough.
But lifting the skills of young people improves chances in the job market.
Just as importantly, over time, the skill level of the population determines our overall income levels.
Developed economies are increasingly based around the excellence of their ideas.
We want a high-skill, job-rich, high-income nation.
Higher incomes depend on skills.
Skills are an issue of particular relevance to young New Zealanders.
The highest unemployment rates are those affecting 15-19 year olds, who are experiencing an 18% unemployment rate.
About one in five of those young people have either very low qualifications or no qualifications at all.
That makes it very difficult for those young people to move into the workforce at all – much less into the high-value jobs based on skills and knowledge.
That is why the Government invested very strongly in education and skills training in the budget.
School operational grants were boosted by $15 million per school year.
I know that figure will be of enormous interest to school executive officers.
Perhaps of even more interest to you, the Government's Budget provided for a capital injection next year of $160 million.
This will fund the largest ever school property works programme.
It will be used to meet roll growth and to upgrade existing schools.
Early childhood education funding was boosted by over $10 million a year.
The government is putting an extra $23 million over four years into reducing the number of pupils who leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills.
Primary schools in poorer areas are getting homework centres so that all children have an appropriate environment where they can study.
The Budget provided an extra $4 million to pilot a new programme designed to improve the transition from secondary school into the workforce.
The Gateway programme will give some young New Zealanders the opportunity to mix experience in a variety of workplaces with their class work.
Real-life employment will be part of their secondary curriculum and count towards nationally recognised qualifications.
Perhaps the greatest interest will be in the Modern Apprenticeship Programme.
The education ministers will soon be announcing more details of Modern Apprenticeship programme pilots to run over the remainder of this year.
Simply put, the Modern Apprenticeship scheme is aimed at getting more sixteen to twenty-one year olds into structured workplace training.
We are funding apprenticeship co-ordinators to guide and support both employers and young people through the red tape of industry training.
Our programme is modelled in part on the successful apprenticeship trusts established in the engineering industry.
More funding is also going into the Industry Training Fund.
In the coming year both Skill New Zealand and the Department of Work and Income are being specifically required to work with business in all our regions to identify skills gaps and find solutions to them.
And so in my view the Government is making very significant strides towards improving opportunities for young people.
We are investing in skills.
We are investing in industry and regional development to help make the jobs available.
I would like to see a position where we aimed even higher.
Alliance policy before the election was to guarantee that no one under twenty would be on the dole.
I would like to see this Government develop a position where it can point to a time in the future when we will be able to give that guarantee.
Instead of the dole, we could have everyone under twenty who didn't have full-time work offered a place in free-of-charge in education or vocational training, such as an apprenticeship.
In fact, I don't understand why, as a nation, we don't pay them as much for their education or training as we currently pay them on the dole.
In my view, governments have tolerated youth unemployment for far too long.
Successive governments have allowed the catastrophe of youth unemployment to ravage a generation.
As a nation we have the means to do something about it.
All we lack is the willingness to pay the cost of a more enlightened policy. We are certainly paying the price for a wasted generation, as a growing skills gap and a rising prison population show.
New Zealanders say they are crying out for vision.
The public is reasonably inquiring, 'where is the place that political leaders and political parties want our country to go?'
My answer to that, and the Alliance answer to that question, is a country of full employment.
The achievable vision in the near term is eliminating unemployment for the under-twenties.
The cost of tertiary education to students is obviously a huge concern.
The high cost of education has kept participation in higher education and training too low and it has exacerbated the brain drain.
In other words, some talented young people with potential have been prevented from realising their potential because they couldn't afford their education.
Perhaps they felt they couldn't wait until they turned forty to pay off their student debts – as half of all women students will.
Many others have fled their debt by leaving our shores and vowing not to return.
The Government has made some differences.
Extra funding has been provided which the Minister of Education hopes will enable tertiary institutions to freeze their fees next year.
Interest on student loans has been removed while full-time students and low-income part-time students are studying.
And the interest rate on student loans has been frozen.
It wasn't increased this year, when it would have been had the formula been applied that was being applied last year.
The Alliance had a policy of making education free of user charges at all levels.
Of course, it costs money to remove the user charges that keep students out of tertiary education and burdens them with a lifetime of debt.
I know that is a popular policy with anyone who can't understand why we penalise young New Zealanders for improving their opportunities through higher education.
But I take every chance I can get to remind New Zealanders that if you want to make education free, then you have to be prepared to support a tax system that will fund it.
That is a challenge to New Zealanders to consider their real commitment – your real commitment – to investing in the future of our country and our young people.