Education cuts perpetuate joblessness scourge

DION TUUTA
Last updated 07:43 19/11/2012

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OPINION: The latest Household Labour Force Survey results make sobering reading for New Zealanders as we head into the Christmas season.

National unemployment rose to 7.3 per cent - its highest rate since 1999.

Of significant concern was the fact that the results showed Maori unemployment had increased from 12.8 per cent in June to 15.1 per cent at the end of September.

While Taranaki fared better than the national average, with 4.8 per cent unemployed, this still represents 3200 individuals at present out of work.

I would be interested to know what percentage of this figure is made up of Maori and young people. I suspect it remains a depressingly large percentage, given that Maori made up 40 per cent of Taranaki's unemployed in 2011, despite representing 15 per cent of the population.

This negative statistic does not bode well for our region's future and is likely to lead to more of our people heading out of the district and probably overseas in search of work, or more families depending on our already strained welfare system.

While it's easy to read the paper and shake our heads sadly at the dreadful statistics, it is worth remembering that those numbers represent people, many of whom are probably wondering how they will support their families as Christmas approaches.

Various commentators have described the present situation as a national crisis and called on the Government to do more to help the many thousands of people seeking work.

Sometimes the problem is not so much the fact that there is no work available, but that the work requires a particular skill set which might not be readily available.

During times of high unemployment, people with limited skills or employment options might seek to retrain themselves to improve their chances of gaining employment in another field.

Which is why it is even more disappointing to read that while our employment statistics get worse, our educational institutions are suffering from funding cuts handed down from central government.

Schools are being shut down and higher learning institutions are being forced to do more with less.

The Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) recently announced that it faces funding cuts of up to $900,000, which could affect up to 10 staff and 70 student places.

I was concerned to note that agriculture and horticulture were likely to be the hardest hit by these funding cuts next year.

These cuts will have negative flow-on effects to other training providers, such as Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, which specialises in training young people wanting to enter into the agricultural industry.

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I know this will sound somewhat self-serving, given that I work for an organisation which has a large concentration of its business in agriculture (as does a significant portion of the rest of Taranaki), but it is disappointing to see that agricultural studies will suffer, particularly as Maori agri-businesses are increasingly encouraging our younger people to pursue careers in the industry.

This is no criticism of WITT. It is simply responding to a dictate handed down from on high.

As I walked to work the other day, I passed the last remnants of New Plymouth's once flourishing Practical Education Institute - the site of one of New Zealand's largest private training establishments, which was closed because of government funding cuts.

Ironically, the former institute building, which used to train young people for future careers, now houses the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The irony is that New Zealanders are constantly being told that our nation needs to improve its productivity if we are to overcome our current economic woes.

One of the key enablers of increasing productivity is to increase knowledge through education, training and development.

It is difficult to do that when funds in the key areas of training and education are being cut.

- Taranaki Daily News

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