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Tairawhiti's Wall-Of-Wood

Strategy Announced To Harvest Tairawhiti's Wall-Of-Wood

A three-way partnership between the government, Tairawhiti communities and industry to bridge labour and skill shortages holding back the development of the forestry industry on the East Coast was announced by social services and employment ministers Steve Maharey and Parekura Horomia in Gisborne this afternoon.

A strong, vital forestry industry was identified as critical to the achievement of sustainable employment and economic growth in the region by the Tairawhiti Development Taskforce established last year by Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton. Labour and skills shortages were seen as a major issue constraining the growth of the forestry industry.

The Ministers said the strategy announced today involved the industry, the local community and the government taking ownership of both the issues and solutions – because working in isolation none alone would solve the problem.

"The underlying causes of labour and skills shortages in the forestry industry in Tairawhiti are complex and interrelated. This strategy tackles the issues head-on," said Jim Anderton.

Four key issues were identified by a Department of Labour report commissioned by the Wood Processing Strategy Group which Mr Anderton chaired:
 the need to improve communication and co-ordination between the key players in the local industry;
 the potential for benefit payments or seasonal jobs to provide an attractive alternative to the demands of forestry work;
 low pay, high physical demands, health and safety issues and a perception that the forestry does not provide an attractive career path affects recruitment into the industry; and,

 a lack of skills and poor work discipline amongst the available and potential workforce linked to in some cases to drug and alcohol use.

Mr Maharey and Mr Horomia said the strategy adopts a multi-pronged approach to counter these problems:
 $120,000 will be provided by Industry New Zealand to employ a full-time coordinator for 12 months.
 new training programmes in literacy, numeracy and silviculture to prepare job seekers for careers in the forestry industry;
 new Budget initiatives aimed at Making Work Pay make it financially more attractive to move off welfare and into real paying jobs in forestry;
 work with contractors on how to be a good employer; and,
 working with local social service providers on a range of local problems, including substance abuse.

"Effective partnerships are the key to caring for and harvesting Tairawhiti's wall-of-wood. Smart governments know that they can't solve the problems by themselves remotely from Wellington, but we are prepared to back local communities and the industry to make the changes that meet local needs," Steve Maharey said.

Mr Horomia said as a local MP he was well aware that unlocking the enormous economic potential of the region's forestry assets was the key to building a strong economic base for the people of the region.

"In the Tairawhiti region, and across Ikaroa-Rawhiti, our people know that the best welfare policy is a job and that communities grow stronger when education and employment levels are raised. The Labour-Alliance Government has made a strong commitment to this region and the onus is now on us to seize the opportunities and move forward," Mr Horomia said.

The Government examined the labour demand and supply issues in the forestry industry in the Tairäwhiti region in response to a perceived shortage of semi-skilled forestry labour. This work was commissioned by the Wood Processing Strategy Steering Group as part of the response to the issues raised by the Tairäwhiti Development Taskforce, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, last year. The results of this investigation are contained in the report entitled “Issues and Solutions: Employment, Skills and Training in the Forestry and Wood Processing Industries – Tairäwhiti and the Nation” which is available on request.

What is the size of the total package?
The total package covers interventions from industry, the community and government. At this stage we only have figures for the Government’s contribution and this amount to around $700,000 over a very wide range of organisations.

When will things start?
While the package of initiatives is already underway, it is also dynamic and ongoing with some initiatives yet to be undertaken. For example there has been increased training opportunities developed and currently taking place in Tolaga Bay and a number of further training initiatives due to start in the coming months. There are a range of budget initiatives designed to assist beneficiaries to make the transition to paid work that will be implemented by 1 July this year. While these initiatives are national strategies, they will have positive impacts in Tairäwhiti also.

How can I get access to the initiatives as outlined?
As part of the strategy we are appointing a full time regional industry co-ordinator. This person is likely to be the initial contact for many initiatives and will be able to provide a co-ordination role across the initiatives. Other initiatives will become part of normal business for the Department of Work and Income such as access to the increased work start grant. In addition, the local steering group of local agencies, community and industry will play a critical role in co-ordinating initiatives.

How does this work fit with the development taskforce?
This work arose out of the work of the Tairäwhiti Development Taskforce. Some of the initiatives build on work already undertaken by the taskforce and we acknowledge their role in the development and ongoing success of the strategy.

What is Government going to do next in Tairäwhiti?
The Government has demonstrated that it is listening to the people of Tairäwhiti. The full effects of the initiatives will take time to filter through. We will be evaluating this package of initiatives and also be examining ways that the lessons learnt here can be applied to other areas of acute need in New Zealand. The Government will also be maintaining a keen interest in the implementation of the strategy and the achievement of tangible progress towards the resolution of employment and skill issues identified.

What happens if the Forestry Industry does not “clean up its act”?
As mentioned earlier neither Industry, the community or Government can solve the issues as outlined to us on their own, it requires a team effort. Each part of the solution needs to play its role for the strategy to succeed. But it is recognised that industry needs to deliver on its pledge to ‘clean up its act’.

You people from Wellington, what do you know?
The Department of Labour, with direct assistance from Te Puni Kökiri, engaged a range of stakeholders from Tairäwhiti, including industry, community, local government, and local Mäori, to identify key issues and some specific proposals involving all the key players. These findings and an overall strategy were validated by stakeholders at a workshop held on 20 March 2001 here in Gisborne. The findings of this project were used as an input into officials advice on a potential strategy for addressing the issues identified.

Specific Issues

What about the issue of immigration?
We acknowledge that throughout the consultation process the issue of immigration was the one issue that raised strong feelings and disagreement amongst participants. We want to make it clear that the Government does not think it appropriate to use an immigration solution where there are unemployed New Zealand job seekers who could do the job. This strategy contains initiatives that are designed to improve both the willingness and ability of job seekers to undertake forestry work.

The Government will be monitoring and evaluating the strategy and the situation and as mentioned previously, if there is a demonstrable “skill” shortage that cannot be filled with New Zealand job seekers then the normal immigration criteria will still be applied.

This is all fine but what are you going to do about the roads / infrastructure?
As mentioned this work arose out of the Tairäwhiti Development taskforce, and more recently the Wood Processing Strategy Steering Group. Three areas of urgent attention were identified by this Strategy Steering Group: 1. Employment, Skill and Training, 2. Transport and Infrastructure (roads) and 3. Resource Management Act. Subgroups have been established to work through these issues and as witnessed today via this announcement progress is being made.

My children won’t work in the forestry industry because of the drug issue.
There are a range of initiatives aimed at both ends of the drug issue. Local agencies and community groups will be meeting shortly to identify needs and possibilities for further prevention.
My children will not work in the industry because there are bad employers.
There are a range of initiatives within the strategy aimed at supporting the forestry industry in its programme to improve the business and employment management capacity of silviculture and harvesting contractors. This includes initiatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Service, The Employment Relations Service, BIZ part of Industry New Zealand as well as Skill New Zealand all providing the mix of support, information and training that is required.

How is the package going to help Mäori?
The forestry industry is seen as a critical sector in making a positive difference for Mäori, given Mäori ownership of land and resources. Mäori have had the opportunity to contribute to the strategy and we recognise the role that Mäori have in providing solutions. While there is still a lot to be accomplished in order to attract young unemployed Mäori into the industry and to offer a rewarding career to Mäori already working in the forestry industry, I believe that the strategy starts down the right track.

The problem is that people on the dole don’t have the right skills or attitude.
There are a range of initiatives aimed at encouraging job seekers and workforce entrants to take up employment opportunities as well as assisting with work readiness (including support for early intervention programmes for those at risk of becoming long term unemployed). For example there are both transition to work initiatives, like the increased work start grant, and support for programmes already successfully assisting those behind the job seeking start line get to the start line

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