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Nats Invited to see how job schemes slashing ue

Welcome mat out for National to see how regional job creation schemes are slashing unemployment

Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment Rick Barker has put out the welcome mat for National’s finance spokesman Don Brash to see first hand how New Zealand has achieved the lowest unemployment figure since 1988.

While delighted with Dr Brash’s interest in social welfare issues and employment creation, Mr Barker said the official 4.9 per cent unemployment figure announced yesterday by Statistics New Zealand proved irrefutably that current job skills and employment initiatives were hitting the mark.

“We all share Don Brash’s desire to see the unemployment benefit fade into history but the type of make-work schemes he continues to advocate would simply fail to give those most in need the skills to enter full and rewarding employment.”

Continued employment growth for the tenth straight quarter saw the official Household Labour Force Survey unemployment figure drop to 4.9 per cent at December 2002 – down from 5.4 per cent for the September 2002 quarter.

Mr Barker said there were now 123,000 more New Zealanders in employment since the Labour-led coalition government took office in December 1999.

“From one end of the country to the other regional employment initiatives such as the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs and numerous others supported by Work and Income are getting more and more people into employment each month.”

For example, a 2002 Labour Department report on Taranaki showed regional economic growth of 4.7 per cent, compared with 3.5 per cent for New Zealand overall.

Continued growth in the region has pushed the region’s labour force participation rate up so sharply that unemployment has continued to fall below Taranaki’s 5.7 per cent for the September 2002 quarter.

“In December 1999 unemployment in Taranaki was at 8.6 per cent. It now stands at 5.5 per cent. That’s a 36 per cent reduction in unemployment in just over three years. A recent newspaper headline said it all: `Taranaki has more work than workers’,” Mr Barker said.

The old perception that all wisdom on employment creation came from Wellington was ditched in the late 1990s and now Work and Income has 13 regional offices where local staff work with local people to get them into local jobs.

“Regional commissioners throughout the country now have the latitude to identify local employment needs and work with local businesses and non-government organisations alike because the employment needs of one region are not the same across the country.

“Areas such as Hawke’s Bay and Nelson-Marlborough have high seasonal employment, whereas the economy of West Auckland is dominated by small enterprises.”

Where possible, Work and Income supports numerous non-government organisations assisting beneficiaries into employment.

“Work and Income case managers and the staff of the Christchurch Methodist Mission are working together to raise the awareness of the department’s service and promote clients into training for employment. Thus far, the Mission has achieved a 40 per cent employment and training success rate.”

In Dunedin, Work and Income is also involved with Presbyterian Support Otago’s YouthGrow initiative. Coordinators work with young men and women to increase their social participation in the community, while providing them with practical land-based and retail employment skills at a garden centre business.

Elsewhere in Otago and Southland Work and Income supports the Malcam Charitable Trust’s 4-Trades Apprenticeship scheme by helping fund industry-based training, identifying apprenticeship opportunities for employers and matching skills with local needs.

“The employment innovation and initiatives taking shape throughout the regions show that local solutions play a key part in the overall picture. That is why unemployment in this country is continuing to fall,” Mr Barker said.

In the past year 63,000 new jobs have been created in New Zealand – an annual increase of 3.5 per cent, while in the past two years Work and Income has assisted 12,000 long-term unemployed people into work.

“Yesterday I sent Dr Brash a letter inviting him to visit any part of the country to see what Work and Income is doing to create employment growth in that region. I genuinely hope he takes me up on that offer,” Mr Barker said.

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