Key's ambitious plan

BY COLIN ESPINER
Last updated 12:27 02/08/2009

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The Government has launched an ambitious plan to wipe out youth unemployment at a cost of $152 million.

Prime Minister John Key has told National’s annual conference in Christchurch that the Government will create up to 16,900 job opportunities for people on the unemployment benefit, aged between 16 and 24.

Currently there are 17,000 young people on the dole, nearly half of whom are Maori and Pacific Islanders.

The major package, dubbed Youth Opportunities, will see jobs either created or existing positions subsidized through a mixture of private job placements, community and council job creation, in-work training, and military-style training programmes.

There will also be extra study places funded at polytechnics and summer scholarships at universities.

In total, 4000 positions will be offered for low-skilled young people in conjunction with businesses and another 3000 in community work.

Another 4000 positions will be offered under National’s exisiting Youth Guarantee scheme, which provides fees-free places for 16 and 17 year-olds not in school.

The scheme will run for the next 18 months, at a cost of $152m. Part of this will be offset through savings from the unemployment benefit.

All employment would be offered at pay rates of at least the minimum wage, and employers would be subsidized with a $3000 up-front payment and a further $2000 after six months, Key said.

“I am concerned that for a young person starting out in their working life a long period of unemployment can be very damaging,’’ Key told the conference.

“That is why I have announced a package of initiatives today around work, education and training, designed to strengthen the ladder of opportunity for young people.’’

The package appears to stop short of actually cutting the dole for young people, but Key said there was no reason why young people could not avail themselves of one of the opportunities the government was providing.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said 3000 places available for community work would see young people involved in renovating marae, kohanga reo, tidying up parks or reserves or getting rid of graffiti or tagging.

“This is a completely new programme. Times are hard for communities and their young people. This policy will connect young people to the positive work that goes on in our communities.’’

Bennett said the community positions would be paid at the minimum wage ($12.50 an hour) for 30 hours a week, ($375) for up to six months. The Government would also pay a further $1250 to the employer for training.

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Bennett said private employers were also being asked to play their part. Businesses with entry-level jobs would be offered subsidies to take on unskilled 16-24 year-olds with little or no qualifications.

Up to 4000 jobs would be funded at a cost of $20 million, again at the minimum wage. All employers regardless of size would be eligible, and paid up to $5000 for six months to take on the young person, Bennett said.

“This is a win for everybody. Young people will get the chance to build their work experience while small to medium-sized businesses will be supported to fill entry roles with limited risk. We’re now looking to employers to come forward with jobs.’’

Education Minister Anne Tolley said the Government would jump-start the Government’s planned Youth Guarantee scheme by implementing it a year earlier than intended.

Up to 2000 full-time equivalent places would be created at polytechnics and wanaga over the next two years with no course fee, although students taking part would not be eligible for students loans.

- The Press

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