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Maharey speech: Building the New Zealand Workforce

Steve Maharey speech: Building the New Zealand Workforce: Not just another brick in the wall

Address at the AGM of IPENZ Special Interest Group for Immigrant Engineers New Zealand (SIGIE)
Good morning and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak at your Annual General Meeting. Greetings also to my colleague, Ashraf Choudhary, who invited me here on behalf of SIGIE.

I understand that most of you are migrants to New Zealand and I take this opportunity to welcome you to the country.

New Zealand is a land of immigrants; our ancestors travelled from distant parts of the world in search of a better life and opportunities for their families- some in wakas, some in ships and more recently in aeroplanes. All of them with great hopes for the future, and all of them in the knowledge that as migrants they would have to work hard to make a new start. But this inflow is not merely historical; it is an ongoing process that very much characterises New Zealand. At present, about 22 percent of working age New Zealand residents are born overseas. And recent migrants are coming from a broader range of countries than ever before.

New Zealand has chosen you as our new Kiwis not only for your knowledge and expertise, but for your pioneering spirit and for the strength of character and courage it takes to leave your homelands, your friends and your families.

In subtitling this speech ‘not just another brick in the wall’ my intention is to indicate that I understand that the introduction of migrant labour is not as simple as slotting people into the system. You are vital to the building of this country; you bring skills that we desperately need. But you are different. You may have a different accent; your qualifications may not exactly match those of New Zealanders. Sometimes we have difficulty interpreting both. Your ways of working are often different to ours: many of you are used to working in the public sector rather than the private sector; many of you are specialists whereas in New Zealand many workers are used to turning our hand to anything, from answering phones, to managing contracts.

New Zealanders have always prided themselves on giving everyone a fair go. We consider ourselves to live in a classless society, and this is reflected in the workplace, where there is little hierarchy, and we do not stand on ceremony. We are all New Zealanders, and it is important to ensure that all New Zealanders are given a fair go and have the opportunities to fully utilise their skills in the workplace.

The New Zealand commitment to equality is reflected in our legislation and institutions. Our law condemns discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, disability and ethnicity. Where there are occurrences of discrimination, they can be brought before the Human Rights Commission. The Government is also proactive in promoting our commitment to equality and diversity, through initiatives such as the recently launched PeoplePower publication, which actively encourages diversity in the workplace.

I shall discuss PeoplePower further in the speech, but first I would like to talk a little about the economic climate in New Zealand at the moment and why this is a very good time for people with skills to find employment.

New Zealand’s recent history of economic growth has been impressive. In the past five years we have been growing at faster than the OECD average. Since our government came to office, growth has averaged around three and a half per cent per annum, and reached a 4.4 per cent peak in early 2003.
That growth has been shared through more jobs. The most recent Household Labour Force Survey for the June 2004 quarter recorded a further drop in unemployment to 4.0 per cent, a level of performance not seen in New Zealand since the survey began in 1987. We now have the second lowest unemployment rate in the OECD (behind Korea on 3.5 per cent), and significantly lower unemployment than our major trading partners. In terms of these indicators it is a great time to be looking for a job here, or working here.

Based on job advertisement numbers and the employment intentions of businesses, the immediate prospects for job growth remain strong. This is reflected in reports of skill shortages where labour is considered the main constraint to growth by 23% of firms, which is a 30 year high.

This has translated into a real interest in businesses finding migrant labour, and it seems that this year the realisation is really starting to dawn on them that they will need to find foreigners with the skills needed to grow their firms. A reflection of this is that while last year it was a struggle to get firms to participate in the Opportunities New Zealand Expo, this year, in one case alone, a single migrant recruitment agent in Wellington will be representing 25 companies at the Opportunities New Zealand Expo in London. These companies need a total of 200 jobs filled.

In addition to the tight labour market, our Government’s recent proposal to fund major construction and roading initiatives means that the demand for civil engineers is growing to such an extent that they are now on the Priority Occupation List following demand from industry bodies. This means that the New Zealand Immigration Service will prioritise immigration of civil engineers.

Given that firms are crying out for skilled labour, we are providing information to employers on the value of looking at sources of labour that they may not have considered up until now, and giving them support in recruiting this labour. Migrant labour is one of the skill sources we believe to be under-utilised.

In our PeoplePower publication, which is distributed to employers, case studies show that immigrants bring to the workplace more than merely the skills we require. As migrants you bring us many benefits. Diversity in itself is valuable. Through you being here we are no longer an isolated island. We get to know you as individuals and through that we understand your culture and become more accepting of difference. You make our workplaces vibrant and interesting. We become more tolerant and more informed people.

In addition to these social and cultural benefits, you also bring firms very real economic benefits by having useful contacts in your countries of origin, your ability often to speak a second language and by transferring the skills that you have learned overseas to our local workforce.

So you can see, the Government is aware that it has a responsibility to help new migrants into jobs. In 2003 we funded the Work and Income Auckland Migrant and Refugee Strategy to address the issues of unemployment and settlement of new immigrants.

The implementation of the Strategy saw a total of 38 specialist case managers appointed in Work and Income Service Centres across the Auckland region – many of whom are themselves migrants and from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Migrant case managers have fewer case load numbers in recognition of the complexities of helping migrants and refugees find work. They also work closely with ethnic community representatives and migrant and refugee organisations as well as participating in cross-cultural training.

Specialised programmes aimed at helping migrant and refugee clients find work have been introduced. One of these, Migrant Job Link, is a three week modular job search programme which currently is achieving employment outcomes in excess of 65%.

A range of ESOL programmes are available to eligible migrant job seekers for whom their level of English is a barrier to employment, and a Multi Lingual Contact Centre was established in Auckland to offer information in a total of eleven languages other than English.

Services are also available to provide migrant-specific job search programmes for job seeker migrant and refugee clients. One of these is the Auckland Chamber of Commerce Initiative for Migrant Professionals.

Work and Income has recently appointed two Migrant work brokers in the Auckland region to facilitate enhanced placement of migrant and refugee clients into work.

For migrants who may not be eligible for statutory benefit from Work and Income there are job search information seminars at a number of migrant centres across Auckland. These are facilitated in collaboration with other agencies specialising in job search assistance, such as Career Services for instance, and participants are also able to access useful settlement information available from these centres.

Work and Income also engages in engineer- specific programmes and job search assistance through continuing to support the IPENZ programme by subsidising participants who are in receipt of a Work and Income Unemployment Benefit.

Work and Income also has a long association with John La Roche of Engineers for Social Responsibility and migrant case managers in Auckland receive regular newsletters for their engineer clients from this support organisation.

In addition, migrant engineers receiving Unemployment Benefit may also be referred to the Work and Income / Auckland Chamber of Commerce Work Experience for Migrant Professionals. Currently Work and Income have purchased 120 places on this programme, which aims to establish relevant work experience opportunities for migrant professionals. Work and Income has committed a total of $360,000 to this programme in the current year and employment outcomes to date are at 49%.

Work and Income is currently also looking at ways they may be able to use the Industry Partnerships initiative to enhance employment outcomes for migrant engineers.

These are some of the initiatives in place to help you to find employment. But of course it is also up to you to do all you can to seek employment. It is estimated that a very large proportion of jobs are not advertised, but are filled by word of mouth and contacts. So how do you find jobs as a newcomer to New Zealand? Human resource consultants who work specifically with migrants say that those migrants who are successful usually have three attributes:

Firstly, they are proactive in looking for employment, they do not simply hand their CVs to firms or human resource companies. They knock on doors; they make appointments to see managers of companies and convince them of their suitability for employment.

Secondly, successful migrants create networks. These networks are usually initially within their own ethnic communities, but then expand to include interest groups and occupational groups. SIGIE is an excellent example of the networks that can be built between professionals of various ethnicities and I note that SIGIE itself has a network sub-committee.

But networks do not stop there- joining a sports club or a hobby group can bring unexpected job opportunities through the people you meet there. By interacting with New Zealanders in a social context you also create understanding and break down prejudice.

Thirdly, it is important to let those people around you know that you are looking for work and not to be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. New Zealanders tend to be extremely helpful people, but they need to know what your needs are.

There is good news on progress that we are making. According to a Statistics New Zealand report released last week, most qualified immigrants, unemployment or underemployment in low-skilled work is transitional rather than long term. In fact, regardless of qualifications, in the long term, immigrants have a lower unemployment rate than New Zealand-born workers.

Of course, the Government would like to see all migrants employed and their skills utilised to the full. I have outlined some of the strategies that the Government is using to try to achieve this. But we realise that as migrants you have a unique set of circumstances and we need to learn from you. We would like you to share your suggestions and experiences with us and to tell us what seems to work for you, and what could work better for you.

Thank you.

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