Christchurch rebuild taking workers off dole

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2013

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Christchurch is boasting the lowest beneficiary unemployment rate in the country as the city's rebuild continues to soak up the unemployed.

In an "unprecedented" drop, almost 5000 people came off the dole and entered the workforce last year, Work and Income figures show.

Canterbury's 40 per cent dive in unemployment beneficiaries is the largest decrease in the region in 10 years and is now driving the national trend - with the number of Kiwis on the benefit decreasing by 10 per cent overall.

The Government is clutching on to rebuild opportunities with both hands and encouraging beneficiaries to enter Christchurch's swelling job sector, with high-profile construction companies already hiring straight from those on the dole.

With many unemployed being trained into skilled labour positions, some predicted a "skill legacy" would be left in the wake of the rebuild.

Work and Income regional labour market manager Jo Aldridge said the city's 40 per cent drop was unprecedented.

Yet, she still had high hopes for another significant fall over the next 12 months.

Of the 4979 beneficiaries who entered the workforce, Aldridge said most were in fulltime permanent labouring positions. They varied in age from teenagers to those in their early 60s.

"The opportunity Canterbury has to engage people into work is the best we have had," she said.

"I can't think of another time we have had an opportunity quite like this."

Work and Income was "frantically busy for all the right reasons".

"Every day we see positive stories about people engaging into work and starting their careers off," Aldridge said.

Many of the beneficiaries were entering jobs that came with "life-changing" career opportunities, and in years to come they had the potential to be fully trained, experienced workers.

"This in not just casual, temporary jobs - it's opening them up to a career."

Beneficiaries from across the country had decided to board the rebuild train and seize job offers in Christchurch, she said.

Work and Income has 31 partnerships supporting beneficiaries into work across various industries in Canterbury.

Before the earthquakes, there were only five established partnerships.

Since August 2011, Work and Income has placed 93 Christchurch jobseekers with Hawkins Construction, and over the past nine months Fletcher Building has employed 37 Cantabrians who had been on the dole.

Fletcher Building group general manager of human resources Kate Daly said there had already been "success stories" of former beneficiaries climbing the job ladder in the company.

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The dole "labour pool" had allowed Fletcher EQR to quickly hire people at a time of great demand, she said.

And, once the peak of the rebuild passes, Daly predicted a "skill legacy" would remain.

"Once the rebuild is finished, the skills mix across the city will be huge," she said.

Fletcher Building has also seconded a Work and Income manager to oversee future recruitment within the company.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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