Engaging the unemployed

15 Nov 2018


The economists call it ‘maximum sustainable employment’; that is apparently what we have reached in New Zealand, with a remarkably low 3.9% unemployment. This is below the Government’s 4% target, and the lowest New Zealand has seen in 10 years. Apparently, it also equates to full employment. This sounds excellent, but still leaves about 100,000 people without jobs, who should have jobs.

All sectors of the New Zealand economy (as I explained in my last blog) are enduring critical labour shortages. However, we are being told that we have already reached maximum sustainable employment.

A recent survey of the construction sector by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, for example, found that 84% of respondents identified skill shortages as a factor holding back activity. There are two key takeaways from this survey. First, the lack of labour is holding back economic activity. But second, and more importantly, skill shortages were an issue; it’s not just about workers, but skilled workers being unavailable. 

Reliability is also a key factor, and a problem often faced in entry level jobs; turning up to work each day can be a major challenge. Here a major myth needs to be dispelled: that entry level jobs do not require skills. Every entry level job that I can think of requires a degree of skill, in addition to reliability. Sometime the skills are relatively easy to teach, true, but that is not always the case.

So it seems the challenge lies is findings ways to enable the 100,000 remaining unemployed to gain skills and reliability, so that they too can join the workforce. Individual horticulture employers, and well as regional groups, have schemes running to do exactly this. These are run with the very valuable support of the Ministry of Social Development. 

Currently, there is a successful Gisborne-based scheme, led by the Tipu Advisory Board and chair Tim Egan. At the end of November, we will replicate this scheme in the Far North. In both of these areas, horticulture is rapidly expanding, and along with that expansion comes the need for skilled, reliable, permanent Kiwi workers. 

The goal of these schemes is to work with potential employees and help them gain the skills needed to join the permanent workforce; then to help them up-skill through programmes like the Primary Industry Training Organisation horticulture apprenticeship. There are places open on this programme at the moment for both apprentices and employers, and they can register here.

At the same time, horticulture is fully committed to providing support and encouragement for apprentices to move into full-time work. We work as an industry through a joint venture called the Horticulture Capability Group, which represents all the major horticulture sectors.

We definitely have a labour crisis on our hands, one which will require us as a country to do everything we can to get anyone without a job a fulfilling, long term career in a growing and exciting industry. 

That is the goal of the Horticulture Capability Group, and one I think we all need to adopt.

- Mike Chapman, CEO