Jobs for youth need all-inclusive action

02:03, Oct 30 2012

It's time for a united approach to combat our youth unemployment problem which has been described as a ticking time bomb.

I doubt much other than hot air will emerge from the union-organised Jobs Crisis Summit in Auckland today - after all little eventuated from the highly hyped Jobs Summit in 2009 and the Government supported that one.

Part of the Government's solution to the problem has been the "starting out wage" confirmed this week. Reaction to it has been predictable.

Employers, who from April 1 may pay mainly 16 and 17-year- olds just 80 per cent of the $13.50 adult minimum wage, or $10.80 an hour, welcomed it. Although it is not compulsory, it could affect up to 40,000 teenagers.

Business New Zealand reckoned having to pay unskilled workers adult wages since Labour abolished youth rates in 2008 had made it hard for many young people to get a job. The argument is that cheaper wages will encourage more employers to take on another unskilled worker and will, at least, give those leaving school a foot in the door.

Those merits have been rubbished by trade unionists and Left-wing political parties who argue that a lower pay rate won't create jobs or give young people skills. Young people understandably are not that keen on being paid a wage barely above the unemployment benefit. My 16-year-old son's likely response would be along the lines of, "No thanks, I'll stay in bed".


The Human Rights Commission, which opposes youth rates on discriminatory grounds, said when submitting for their removal last time around that there was no strong evidence they had lifted youth employment.

But more recent statistics seem to tell a different story. Since youth rates' removal four years, the number of jobless youth has risen at a much faster clip than the overall unemployment rate. Co-incidental? It seems unlikely. The latest Household Labour Force Survey showed 61,700 15 to 24-year-olds were now unemployed, up from 41,100 four years ago.

Although it's a global problem, we need local solutions. Most OECD countries try to keep their teenagers in school longer, but New Zealand has a high number of unqualified youth leaving school early who don't make the transition successfully into work.

Since the global financial crisis, we also have young people with qualifications unable to find work.

Economic "think tank" the New Zealand Initiative last year offered two solutions - accelerating the rollout of elearning to low decile schools and improving the school-to-work transition.

Although there are several local initiatives under way to help youth make the transition to work, the think tank argued there was no 'well-organised centre hungry for valuable interventions and capable of scaling them' nationally.

The commission made the same call last year when it urgently recommended a national youth-to-work strategy that included a plan for every young New Zealander, with cross-party political support and long-term funding. Such an approach would need the backing and involvement of many groups to succeed, it said, including parents, unions, politicians, employers and youth services.

The Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs, which has a membership of 65 mayors nationwide, has taken up the challenge and drafted a national strategy. It takes account of what has worked and what hasn't with central government- funded regional initiatives. The strategy closely follows a successful community-backed plan in Otorohanga that involves talking first to local employers about their needs, fitting youth into specific training that would suit those jobs, and most importantly, providing support once they are employed to ensure they stay that way.

Task force chief executive Jan Francis says the central government appears reluctant to extend the funding nationwide, choosing instead to focus on about 13,000 youth deemed most at risk of not finding work on their own. But the mayors think the other 67,000 or so youth not in work or education also need help and are extending the strategy nationwide with community support.

Youth unemployment is a problem that affects us all either directly or indirectly, and it is one that needs a solution for all young people, not just some. Otherwise not only will we have a failed generation, we will have failed them.