Mike Yardley: Too little, too late from Government on youth unemployment

Fishing for votes in the heartland: New Zealand First leader Winston Peters' campaign tour has been touring the ...
John Hawkins

Fishing for votes in the heartland: New Zealand First leader Winston Peters' campaign tour has been touring the provinces, such as places like Gore.

OPINION: Less than ten weeks out from election day, isn't it refreshing how the regions have emerged as a pivotal battleground ahead of September 23?

For the past fortnight, Winston Peters has purred through the provinces on his New Zealand First campaign bus, drawing sizeable crowds to his town hall-style meetings, up and down the land.

Hot on the heels of his heartland hop-scotching, National has been wheeling out a travelling cavalcade of Cabinet Ministers, to pork-barrel in the provinces.

Winston Peters of New Zealand First spoke to Grey Power members at the Timaru RSA last week.
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

Winston Peters of New Zealand First spoke to Grey Power members at the Timaru RSA last week.

On Thursday, the West Coast felt the ministerial love with a multi-pronged package of spending initiatives, pumping $36.8 million into the region's economic development action plan.

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From Northland to Southland, the heartland is being showered with a pronounced upswing in development and infrastructure funding, under the guide of the government's Regional Growth Programme.

Amid this rolling scrum of "big reveals," Canterbury's refreshed economic development strategy was shown the love last month, with a volley of fiscal lollies showering proceedings.

But the most fascinating announcement to date from this inter-provincial strip-teasing came last week in Hawkes Bay, when National unveiled a $50 million investment package to help at-risk young people into employment.

The Youth Employment Pathways programme will work intensively with the 5280 most at-risk unemployed young people in Hawke's Bay, Northland, the Eastern Bay of Plenty and East Coast. All of these under 25 year olds are not currently in work, education or training. Bureaucracy classifies these young people as Neets: Not in employment, education or training.

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There's much about this social investment initiative to like, given its designed to match these under 25 year olds with employers and through intensive pastoral work, keep them in employment. This programme is targeted at young people with complex needs, at risk of being long-term unemployed and will focus on blitzing their employment barriers, whether it be their lack of a drivers licence or treating drug abuse.

It's all very laudable, but hopelessly small-scale and woefully belated. Why now? Why has the government sat on its chuff and allowed tens of thousands of young Kiwis to remain vegetating on the dole, in favour of the record-busting mass-importation of low-skilled workers? Only Israel has a higher rate of non-citizen immigration, per capita, in the developed world than New Zealand. And as the latest data from Statistics New Zealand reveals, of the 73,000 net migrants who poured into New Zealand in the past year, only 8000 were classified as high-skilled.

Bravo to Don Brash who has taken to task a variety of economists for shamelessly scare-mongering about the economic consequences of cutting our immigration flows. Brash points out that high immigration is not only placing exorbitant strain on our ability to sustainably fund public infrastructure, whether it be roads, schools or the health system, but it is suppressing real wage growth. Kiwi "workers would be better off with a much lower level of non-citizen immigration," he said on Friday. 

Wage growth continues to chart a particularly anaemic course, failing to keep pace with the cost of living. In the past year, the Consumers Price Index increased 2.2 per cent, while annual wage inflation tailed behind at 1.6 per cent. 

Many an employer will bemoan the diminishing sense of a good work ethic among many young Kiwis. Enhancing the value of work and the reward for the worker certainly wouldn't go amiss, on that score.

It is utterly incongruous and intolerable that so many sectors of the economy claim they can't find locals to fill job vacancies, given the stockpile of idle domestic labour.  About 130,000 Kiwis are registered as unemployed. Canterbury's unemployment rate has jumped from a post-quake low of 2.7 per cent in 2016 to 4 per cent in the March 2017 quarter.

As much as the government's youth employment announcement last week is worthy of support, National has dropped the ball by failing to apply that hands-on and transformative approach nationwide.

The Hawkes Bay announcement only applies to 5000 Neets, yet there are currently 90,000 Kiwis, aged 15 to 24, who aren't in employment, education or training. Between March 2016 and March 2017, the number of Neets in Canterbury shot up by 3900, to 10,000.

What is being done to stop this vast and growing swathe of young and rudderless Cantabs from rotting their lives away?

 - Stuff

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