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Helping migrants and refugees into work

Hon Steve Maharey
1 December 2003 Speech Notes

Helping migrants and refugees into work

Comments at the launch of the Auckland Metropolitan Migrant and Refugee Strategy. Work and Income Auckland Regional Office, Ellerslie.

Greetings and welcome

[Slide one]

Tena koutou katoa, Talofa lava, Malo e leilei, Suswaagatam, Huan Yin, Foon ying, Ahlan Bikum.

[Slide two]

Auckland is the fastest-growing city in a young and dynamic country. A rich blend of cultures, ethnicities, and languages, the city is a magnet for other New Zealanders and for international arrivals.

Auckland is growing by an estimated 49 people a day. A third of its population was born overseas, and there are at least 180 distinct ethnic groups in the city. A real twenty-first century melting pot.

[Slide three]

This population growth is great for business. In the last year, the Auckland region’s economy outperformed the national economy. The labour market is buoyant, and opportunities are rampant—Auckland employers are crying out for skilled workers.

The conditions are perfect for a boost to employment. For a strategy that targets a group of Job Seekers with plenty to offer employers, but with particular barriers to employment. Barriers of language, culture, qualifications, and skills. Barriers that may be significant, but can be overcome.

[Slide four]

Welcome to the launch of the Auckland Metropolitan Migrant and Refugee Strategy.

The Migrant and Refugee Strategy is designed to help migrants and refugees get into work, and have better access to government services. It will make a real and positive difference to Work and Income’s migrant and refugee clients as they establish new lives in New Zealand. And it will increase the pool of skilled labour that Auckland employers so urgently need.

[Slide five]

As part of today’s launch, we’re also formally opening the Work and Income Multilingual Contact Centre. In improving the way Work and Income communicates with its migrant and refugee clients, the Contact Centre is a significant milestone in the Government’s relationship with the migrant and refugee community.

[Slide six]

The Migrant and Refugee Strategy is a big investment for the Government: 21.2 million dollars over the next four years.

It’s an investment that will reap many rewards.

Building social capital

[Slide seven]

The Government’s vision is for an inclusive, prosperous New Zealand with opportunities for everyone. We want every New Zealander to have the chance to fulfil their potential, to achieve economic and social independence, and to participate in their communities.

Building an inclusive and prosperous society requires us to also build our social capital. Social capital means the benefits that our communities get from good social relationships and from strong community networks.

Strong social capital helps a community to achieve its own economic and social development. It is the web of relationships that connects people, helps them to access information and jobs, and work together to achieve community goals.

The Auckland Metropolitan Migrant and Refugee Strategy will create a huge boost for social capital among the migrant and refugee community.

The Strategy is about employment—working with migrants and refugees to help them find the jobs that are right for them.

It’s about communication—establishing the Multilingual Contact Centre we’re opening today, and providing English language tuition for migrants and refugees who have language or literacy barriers to employment.

And it’s about networking—working collaboratively with other agencies and organisations to develop and deliver practical solutions for migrants and refugees seeking work.

Focussing on migrant and refugee Job Seekers

[Slide eight]

In developing the Migrant and Refugee Strategy, Work and Income classified a migrant or a refugee as a person who was born overseas, and who arrived in New Zealand within the last ten years. Around 16% of Work and Income registered Job Seekers in Auckland fall into this category—almost six and a half thousand people.

Why should we have a particular focus on refugee and migrant Job Seekers?

Around 50% of Job Seekers overall leave the unemployment benefit within six months of registering. However, among migrant and refugee clients, that figure is around 15%. In other words, 85% of our migrant and refugee Job Seekers are in danger of becoming long-term unemployed.

Work and Income is very aware that this high at-risk figure is because of the barriers to employment faced by many migrants and refugees.

[Slide nine]

They may have qualifications that are not recognised by professional bodies and employers in New Zealand.

They may lack New Zealand work experience, and have language and literacy problems. Refugees, in particular, tend to have fewer qualifications and lower levels of education than other migrants.

They may not be an exact ‘match’ to New Zealand’s workplace culture and requirements. For example, many migrant professionals have experience in large corporate companies. Most New Zealand businesses are small, and require multi-skilled staff.

Finally, migrants and refugees may have trouble accessing support services because of language difficulties and a lack of social networks. The Multilingual Contact Centre will go a long way to addressing this barrier. However, fragmentation of services can also be a problem.

[Slide ten]

The good news is that multi-tasking skills and English language ability quickly improve once a migrant or refugee has started work. Cultural understanding, too, quickly increases as the worker and the employer adjust.

The key, then, is to get the migrant or refugee Job Seeker into that first job. The Migrant and Refugee Strategy delivers specific, tailored interventions that help ensure migrants and refugees don’t become long-term clients of Work and Income.

Collaboration is fundamental to the Strategy’s success. Work and Income is working in partnership with businesses and employers, community organisations, training providers, and other government agencies, to deliver the services that will get migrants and refugees into work.

Work experience pilot

[Slide eleven]

Some of the Strategy’s initiatives are already up and running, such as the Work Experience Pilot for Migrant Professionals. This highly successful joint venture between Work and Income and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce links professional migrants with work experience and employment opportunities.

Last year 110 clients participated in the pilot. Eighty percent moved into employment in fields such as IT, sales and marketing, university lecturing, civil engineering, and finance and management.

Building on the strength of this success, the Work Experience pilot is expanding. In the coming year it will be delivered to 160 clients, and will receive $300,000 funding. In total, the Government is putting $1.7 million into the pilot.

Enhanced case management

Two initiatives are helping migrants and refugees more easily access the help they need to find work. Specialise Migrant Work and Income case managers are providing intensive, one-on-one enhanced case management to migrants and refugees who are registered as Job Seekers in Work and Income sites.

Enhanced case management involves a lot more than just paying out benefits. The Specialist case manager helps the client to identify their employment goals, strengths, and barriers, and then works closely with the client to help them achieve those goals.

Some staff have also been seconded to Migrant centres across Auckland to provide information and assistance to migrants who don’t quality for a benefit. This early intervention is aimed at helping new migrants quickly find work without having to resort to government income assistance.

Two Work and Income case managers have been based in the Auckland Regional Migrant Resource Centre in Three Kings for some time. They offer a twice weekly seminar about the New Zealand labour market and job search techniques. This service has recently been extended to migrant centres on the North Shore and in Manukau.

Job search, job skills, and ESOL training

[Slide twelve]

Like many other Job Seekers, migrants and refugees benefit greatly from job search seminars. These seminars cover things like networking for job opportunities, and interview and CV techniques. Work and Income has adapted its standard Work Track programme to include content that is specifically tailored to migrant and refugee needs. Two Migrant Job Link programmes began in October, and more are to come.

We’re also investing in client development programmes like driver education and adult literacy.

It’s essential that we provide tuition in English as a Second Language for people who have difficulty finding employment because of language barriers. The Government has set aside $894,000 for ESOL tuition over next two years.

All migrant and refugee beneficiaries, not just those registered as Job Seekers, can take part in this tuition. They can also make use of the Internet-based service being developed. The service enables clients to download self-paced ESOL packages, and to get key information in several languages.

Finally, there’s the Multilingual Contact Centre that we’re officially opening today.

Multilingual Contact Centre

[Slide thirteen]

Designed to help clients who have difficulty accessing Work and Income employment and other services because of language difficulties, the Multilingual Contact Centre is already making a huge difference to how Work and Income communicates with its migrant and refugee clients around New Zealand.

The Contact Centre began operations on 1 October this year. In its first seven weeks, it received calls from 1,866 clients. That’s almost 270 calls a week; clearly a much-needed service. And those numbers are just the beginning.

The Contact Centre currently provides a dedicated 0800 number for each of the seven languages I greeted you with today: Samoan, Tongan, Maori, Hindi, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Arabic. We’ll keep expanding the languages available, adding 0800 numbers for Khmer, Punjabi, Vietnamese, Farsi, and Somali by early next year.

The 0800 number provides a personalised greeting and message, and diverts the caller to the first available Customer Services Representative who can speak to them in their language. That Customer Service Representative might be in the Contact Centre itself, or in one of Work and Income’s four Call Centre sites around New Zealand.

[Slide fourteen]

Although it is based here in Auckland, the Contact Centre’s coverage is nationwide. Callers from Invercargill or Wellington receive the same fast and accessible service as callers from Mt Roskill or North Shore.

The development of the Contact Centre has also contributed to creating employment for some members of the migrant and refugee community. Several of the Centre’s 17 staff are migrants who were recruited through Work and Income’s own employment service. These staff have a passion to help their communities and are very excited about being part of Work and Income’s commitment to migrant communities.

Currently with 11 multilingual staff, the Contact Centre is expanding rapidly. Two staff who speak Hindi and Korean are being trained right now. The Contact Centre has also just recruited two speakers of Farsi, two speakers of Punjabi, a speaker of Arabic, and a speaker of Somali. These staff will begin training in December.

Closing the skills gap

[Slide fifteen]

Auckland’s growing labour market and strong economy has highlighted a problem for local employers. We call that problem a skills gap. Too many of Work and Income’s Job Seekers lack the skills needed by our growing industries.

Earlier this year, I announced the Government’s Jobs Jolt package. This $104.5 million package of initiatives places a strong emphasis on industry-led strategies to identify and deliver the skills that Job Seekers need.

The Auckland Metropolitan Migrant and Refugee Strategy is another key plank in closing the skills gap, and helping more New Zealanders achieve economic and social independence through paid employment. It is a testament to the Government’s commitment to an inclusive society with opportunities for everyone. We want to make sure that migrants and refugees have the same opportunities as all New Zealanders.

Slide sixteen

In New Zealand’s biggest city, the Strategy will help us to achieve that vision.

ENDS

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