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Maharey Speech: Skills to drive the Waitakere econ

Maharey Speech: Skills to drive the Waitakere economy: the Waitakere Employment and Skills Project

Comments at the launch of the Waitakere Employment and Skills Project. Moka Restaurant, Henderson.


Kia ora ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to be in Waitakere City, thanks for coming.

I’d like to acknowledge the Waitakere City Council representatives, Employers, and the staff here from the Ministry of Social Development, Work and Income, Tertiary Education Commission and the Department of Labour.

I am delighted to be here to launch a project that offers an exciting and innovative approach to addressing the employment and skills issues in Waitakere City

Employment and skills shortages are now a reality for the whole country and we need to work together as the labour market shrinks with an ageing population and economic success boosts demand for skilled and motivated workers.

The Government has been trying to work towards this through the development of such initiatives as Employment and Skills Forums. The first of these was held in Nelson earlier in the month.

At a grassroots level, Work and Income has been focusing on social development since becoming part of the Ministry of Social Development in 2001.

Social development is a planning based approach. A goal or objective is set and an action plan created and worked through to achieve the goal. Addressing the underlying causes of social problems, rather than papering over the symptoms, is an inherent element of this approach.

Lets take a practical example of this.

A longstanding problem has been people leaving the benefit system for work only to return shortly thereafter – usually more disillusioned than when they left. Our approach to this issue is to find out why the return occurs and address the problem. As often as not this can be rectified by some targeted training to help the person gain more sustainable work or to step up the career ladder. Or perhaps by providing more support mentoring and assistance at the point the person moves from benefit to work.

The heart of our approach is very simple – don’t waste precious time and money on go nowhere ‘work for the dole’ schemes (a proven failure) – focus your energy instead on building skills, making placements and providing support for sustainable paying jobs.

And it works – last year Work and Income achieved a record number of employment placements lasting at least three months – and we know that if we can hold someone in work for that length of time their chances of staying in work increase greatly.

That success is why we have also changed the approach to sole parent clients. From the start of this month we are applying a social development approach to helping widows and sole parents to plan for their future and return to employment.

Under the old work test rule, people on the DPB were basically treated as ‘pay and forget’ cases until their youngest child turned six – then they were subject to a notional part-time work test. Why notional? Because caseloads prevented case managers spending enough time to help people find work.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that people who had further babies would not receive employment support – would bypass the ‘work test’ - provided their youngest child was under six – and of course this small group are the very people opposition parties now claim to be so concerned about.

Under the new social development approach everyone on a DPB will be planning and working for their future from year one. More resources have been provided to ensure that case loads will be lower and case managers have the time to work in partnership with their clients.

Social development is all about partnership – at an individual and at a community level. Work and Income’s mission in Waitakere is to make a difference in this community through quality partnerships.

The Waitakere Employment and Skills Project is an excellent example of this social development approach in action. It also embodies the very real results that the Government is expecting from the Employment and Skills Forums.

It is encouraging to see a city that is so far down this track. The project will provide an important model for other parts of the country when they come to turning their planning into practical solutions to their employment and skills issues.

I would like to acknowledge all of you who have been involved in getting this project off the ground – the employers, the community organizations, the social sector agencies, the Waitakere City Council. You can all be proud of your contribution to this important initiative.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the active involvement of Waitakere Mayor, Bob Harvey, in the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs. I am sure his commitment to the Taskforce and its principles will benefit this project as it works towards achieving its goals.

In October 2002 the government signed a memorandum of Understanding with the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs, outlining the process by which central government and the Taskforce will co-operate towards achieving the shared goal that:

By 2007, all 15-19 year olds will be engaged in appropriate education, training, work or other options which will lead to long term economic independence and well-being.

Waitakere City – Plenty of Potential, Plenty of Challenges

Turning to day’s launch, some of you may not be aware of the work that has been done to get the Waitakere Employment and Skills Project to this stage. I would like to take a couple of minutes to trace through the evolution of the project.

Waitakere is a city full of potential. Your city is ethnically diverse, young, and growing. However it is also a city facing challenges, with an unemployment level of 6.4%, and more than 20% of young people leaving school without any qualifications.

Almost half of the labour force works outside the city and employers are facing a shortage of skilled labour.

This Employment and Skills Project is seeking to address the challenges through the provision of demand-led strategies. Demand-led strategies are about putting employers in the driving seat. Solutions will be more effective if the time is taken to find out what it is that employers need and it is pleasing to see that employers have played an important part in the development of this project.

Laying the Foundation – Researching the Labour Market

The whole foundation of the Project is the research that Massey University carried out into the city’s labour market. A good understanding of issues is vital to developing effective strategies.

Work and Income’s Regional Commissioner for Auckland’s West and North, Barry Fisk, commissioned the Massey University research in order to learn more about the demand-side of the labour market.

The researchers interviewed a range of small to large businesses across seven industries: hospitality, plastics, health, engineering, clothing, organics, wine making, and paper and printing.

Employers were asked about the employment opportunities in their industry and the issues they faced in the areas of skills shortages, recruitment and training.

The completed report was published in May last year. Some of its key findings were: skills shortages were hindering business growth, training needed to be more closely aligned with employers’ needs, employers found in-house training the most effective form of training, and apprenticeships ensured a steady flow of skilled people into industries.

This research has given the project a solid and sound foundation on which to build its strategies and action plans. It has allowed the organizations involved to make informed decisions about how best to tackle the issues they are trying to address.

The strategies that have grown from this will be more effective as they will address real needs – not perceived ones.

What is particularly pleasing to see is that the research has been widely distributed amongst the Waitakere community. Employers, the council, training providers, and interested community organizations have all had access to the report and its findings.

More importantly, representatives from these groups have not left the research to gather dust on a shelf. For example, an industry internship programme has been developed by Work and Income, Industry Training Organisations, the Tertiary Education Commission, local employers and training providers. This is already giving Work and Income clients opportunities to gain work-based training that linked into the national qualifications framework, as well as providing employers with an opportunity to assess potential employees.

Waitakere Employment and Skills Project – Innovative and Integrated

The action plan being launched today represents an innovative and integrated approach to providing practical and real solutions to very real issues. It is a model that the rest of the county should look at and learn from.

I would like to draw attention to what I see as the key strengths of the project.

Firstly, it takes a broad approach to addressing labour market issues. Rather than focus on one particular aspect such as training needs, the project’s five goals look at employment and skills as a whole.

These goals include knowing the labour market. The project will seek to gain more accurate knowledge of labour demand meaning that you can make properly informed decisions.

These goals also focus on helping people into employment. This may be by providing assistance to youth making the transition from school to work. It may also be by providing people with training that is needed by local industries. Or it may be by making sure the city is using all the working talent that it has.

I understand that the District Health Board and local licensing trust are interested in working with the project to maximize the talent of Waitakere’s new migrants and sole parents. This Government is particularly interested in supporting sole parents into work and I will follow the development of this initiative with great interest.

The goals will also address on-going training and encouraging more employers to use structured workplace learning. This shows the project’s commitment to economic and social development. It is not enough to just put people into jobs – we must also build their knowledge and skills through on-going training. This has benefits for employees who are able to expand and develop their skills-base, building a career as they go. It also benefits employers who end up with a more highly skilled and motivated workforce.

Finally the goals will ensure that success will be championed. Good news deserves to be shared and it can provide inspiration for others.

The second key strength of the Waitakere Employment and Skills Project is the fact that it invests in our youth. Youth are this county’s future workforce. Rather than acting as the proverbial ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, this project takes a proactive approach to preventing long-term youth unemployment. The potential impact of this investment in our youth should not be underestimated.

You may know that the government is currently working on the development of an education and training leaving age strategy. We committed ourselves in our election manifesto to ensuring that all 15 –19 year olds engaged in education, training or work by 2007.

While the school leaving age will not be increased, the Education and Training Leaving Age Strategy will ensure there are a variety of education, training, and employment pathways. We expect that this will see some students staying on at school because they will be able to mix school and work-based study, and, for example, build credits towards an apprenticeship. The programmes that make up the Education and Training Leaving Age Strategy will provide support and training for around 17-18,000 young people per year.

The Government will also make a substantial contribution to youth of Waitakere directly through the Employment and Skills Project. Around half a million dollars will be invested in two of the actions aimed at young people.

One of these is the Tertiary Education Commission’s Gateway programme which has been allocated funding of $300,000. Gateway will provide Waitakere’s senior secondary school students with structured workplace learning. Gateway is being extended as part of the project to assist more of Waitakere’s young people to make the transition from school to work.

The other youth-oriented action that I would like to mention is Youth Works Waitakere. This aims to foster links between industry and Waitakere’s high schools so that more teenagers move into stable employment. It will work with those teenagers who are seen as being at risk of long-term unemployment or who have been looking for work for more than six months. Two hundred young people will receive individual employment plans and 20 of these will be placed into industry cadetships.

I am pleased to announce that Youth Works Waitakere has been approved as a Youth Employment Regional Pilot and will receive $190,000 from the Ministry of Economic Development.

The final, and perhaps most important, key strength of this project is you – the businesses, the agencies, the organizations of Waitakere City. Your support is critical to the success of the project. This is not something that can be achieved by one agency whether that be central or local government or a social sector agency. Your collaborative work will be critical to reaching the very achievable goals that you have set yourselves. Anything is possible when you work together.


I encourage you to give this project your full support so that Waitakere City can reach its full potential and be well placed to deal with the new challenges that will face it in the future. I also acknowledge the initiative that you have taken in taking ownership of your economic and social development.

The Waitakere Employment and Skills Project is leading the way in demand-led labour market strategies in New Zealand. I commend the innovation and initiative shown by you all.

Thank you for attending today and I wish you all the best in achieving the goals that you have set yourselves.

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