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Dale Williams on The Nation

Interviewed by DUNCAN GARNER

Duncan All week we've seen the pictures of unemployed youth rioting across Britain. Youth unemployment there is now just over 20%, and New Zealand isn't far behind, up to four years of rapid rises more than 17% of young people under the age of 24 are not out of work in New Zealand, and many of them are concentrated in areas, poor areas like Northland or the East Coast. In a recent report the Human Rights Commission pointed to this as one reason why New Zealand is becoming a less cohesive society. In a moment we'll talk to John Key about this but first we hear from Otorohanga Mayor Dale Williams, he chairs the nation Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs and he's turn the problem around. Dale Williams joins me from Hamilton. Good morning Dale thanks for coming on the programme.

You’ve got 0% unemployment in Otorohanga and you have done since I think about 2006. For New Zealanders watching this programme this morning, my question to you on behalf of them is how have you don’t that?

Dale Williams – Otorohanga Mayor
Well I guess it school shortage days six or seven years ago when Otorohanga decided that it needed to put some real support in place for our employers and also for our young people, so we've developed a suite of programmes over that time, currently running at 11, and basically where it puts the young people, the employers, and the community first, and everything we do is around transitional support, carers advice, and making sure the young people are supported as they make decisions for the next part of their life.

Duncan So what are they doing Dale, are they what, picking up rubbish, do they get on some kind of minimum wage type from WINZ or from the local body. I mean tell us how it works, give us an example basically.

Dale Okay, well an example is we – as young people are leaving school we have a Wintech Trade Training Centre in Otorohanga where the courses have been designed by our local employers. The employers tell us what skills young people need to work for them. We go about developing courses that teach exactly what the employers want, and then we ask the employers to step up and make sure the jobs are there for our graduates, and we employ people to work really closely to support the young people. We gather information as the kids are leaving school from our local college, and we put in place a very intensive set of programmes to support young people into a job. For us jobs are the key. If young people aren’t working or don’t feel they’ve got opportunities into employment, then all this negative stuff falls out the bottom.

Duncan So what we're talking about is sort of work gangs are we, I mean what it sounds like you're saying is you are working one on one. You know these people by their first names and you're getting them into some kind of work gangs are you immediately after they leave school?

Dale No no, not work gangs. We're about finding out what young people want out of life and then going about connecting them to the agencies or organisations or employers who are best able to provide them with the preparation for work skills that they need and working really closely with our local employers to make sure that young people who don’t want to leave town or don’t want to go off further education, have a realistic opportunity to contribute to our community, and it's working Duncan. I mean as you said before our youth unemployment figures are nothing short of amazing, but also our youth crime and our antisocial behaviour is virtually nil, and I'm really really proud of everybody who participates in this.

Duncan And that’s the issue, I mean we're at a crisis point, and I think you'd agree with that given some of the statements you’ve made, and the mayoral forums have made. Where's government going wrong? What do they need to do?

Dale Well I think the one thing that we don’t have is we don’t have a comprehensive agreed youth to work strategy, or some type of strategy that young people know. I mean employment has to be at the end of this. Education wasn't designed to be self serving but in fact it is. I mean we're churning out thousands of debt ridden graduates from universities with no chance of a job, and yet our communities are calling out for more tradespeople, more practical people and skilled people and yet these are the very people that academia seems to wipe its hands of, and you know currently our young people know very clearly when they enter high school exactly what the pathway is to further education, but it's not so clearly defined what the pathway's might be into trades or more practical employment.

Duncan Do you think the government's taken its eye off the ball at that central government level, because if you look at youth unemployment which has been steadily going up as we've talked about, things like youth apprentices have actually been going down. I mean do you actually think that the government needs to take a much closer look at this, because they have been asleep at the wheel on it?

Dale No I wouldn’t agree with that. I don’t think the government's taken its eye off the ball, but I think things like Community Max and Job Ops and so forth in the last couple of years have really been fantastic, and what that’s shown the communities like ours, is that young people are ready to work if they're given an opportunity. But I view those as more stopgap measures. What I'd like to see or what the task force would like to see is a true commitment to take a bit of a risk and really put in place long term programmes and processes that go beyond the three year election cycle, that go beyond party politics, that actually change the culture of New Zealand, where young people have a real opportunity. Only then will we see young people staying onshore and not drifting overseas, and not heading to dead end academic courses, where we actually need young people to work. We've got huge opportunities.

Duncan Some of those programmes Dale like the Community Max programme that I think the government put about 153 million dollars into over the last few years, actually hasn’t worked, because if you look at the statistics and they don’t lie, the numbers are high and a lot of those people – and we've done stories on this on 3News this year, have either gone to Australia or remained out of work long term as a result. I mean yes it gave them some work skills but didn’t give them work.

Dale Well when the 3000 positions of Community Max, those six month courses finished, around 70% didn’t go straight back on to a benefit, so that told me that they were work ready at that point. However, because there's no direct connection between employers and work ready young people, and I guess that’s what we're calling for is a decent strategy that keeps employers closely connected to what's happening.

Duncan So why won’t the government do what you're saying. I mean you're a Mayor, you're a responsibility high profile small town Mayor, why won’t the government do what you're asking for? Why aren’t they doing it?

Dale I guess because it's risky, we're dealing with young people, we're dealing with young people in some cases that are at risk, that have got other challenges happening in their life. We certainly found in Otorohanga it hasn’t been plain sailing, but you’ve got to commit and it takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of effort. I actually think the government is really keen to make some direction in this, but I sense that some senior officials and bureaucracy is actually getting in the way of providing the sort of advice that the government and the ministers should be acting on.

Duncan Alright Dale, thank you so much for joining us from Hamilton this morning, and all the best in your small town going forward.

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