Talking about young people's working lives

20:57, Jul 18 2010

Today's Business View contributor is Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor , who describes the findings from the national conversation about work - a two-year project that spoke to 3000 people across the country about the experiences of employers and employees at work.

Some secondary school students are working up to 30 hours before and after classes, and on weekends.

Long work hours for some teenagers was one of the findings of the What Next? National Conversation about Work report released today.

Those working long hours while still at school were using their money for items such as cars, cellphones and clothes.

The National Conversation about Work report represents the views of more than 3000 employers and employees working in a wide variety of industry sectors.

The project was undertaken to identify what constituted good work and what made for decent workplaces and to identify how work could be improved in terms of fairness.


In almost every region youth employment was raised as a major concern. The major issues are:

- young tertiary-qualified people are struggling to gain employment;

- some secondary students are working long hours;

- disadvantaged youth with low levels of educational attainment are falling through the cracks;

- there is a worrying level of employer bias about hiring young people.

One of the recommendations is the need to develop a national youth-to-work programme for every young Kiwi that has cross- party support and sufficient long- term funding security.

Any strategy introduced must be responsive to the needs of Maori and Pacific youth as particularly vulnerable groups of young people.

One of the first issues raised when the commission's staff visited regions over the past two years was youth unemployment.

However, secondary school students in Taranaki surprised the commission when they said they worked up to 30 hours per week.

Asked what they liked about their work, students replied: "Work is fun and enjoyable; and the interaction with people is great." But teachers were concerned that in some cases that work distracted students from their studies.

Students wanted better access to plain English information about employee rights, qualifications, courses and career pathways.

Various youth work initiatives operating in many regions are delivering outstanding outcomes for youth. However, these innovative programmes are not widespread and many need secure funding.

Some of the enterprising schemes include an "incubator" programme in Hawke's Bay aimed at encouraging youth towards careers in the health sector, a scholarship programme aimed at business administration in Dunedin, and a trades training programme in Otorohanga contributing to young peoples' career aspirations.

In Otorohanga, the trade training programme had successfully kept youth employment at zero per cent and apprenticeship completion rates above 90 per cent.

The commission learnt of a worrying bias by some employers against young people due to perceived attitudes to work and stereotypes about the youth work ethic. Some employers believe they have to make a much greater investment in younger people to get them up to speed. Youth unemployment is generally higher during recession, but employers' attitudes towards young people were a marked feature of the national conversation about work.

Other young-worker issues raised in the national conversation about work included provision of relevant employment rights information in attractive media formats that appeal to young, improved monitoring of youth as they transition from education to work, and specific focus on Maori and Pacific youth employment outcomes.

Taranaki Daily News