National unemployment figures might look low on paper but Rotorua employers say there’s not a shortage of people to employ – rather a shortage of people who are ready for employment.
According to latest figures from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), there are about 5000 people currently on Job Seeker benefits in Rotorua which represents over 10% of the working age population. That’s far in excess of the 3.4% national unemployment rate.
Rotorua Business Chamber CEO Bryce Heard says there are many groups doing “great work” with local unemployed people, providing wrap-around services to help encourage, support, develop them and grow their skills.
“That’s very good and very necessary work. But it’s not always hitting the key points that the employers want hit,” Bryce says.
“What the employers want is staff who will come to work with good aptitude, good attitude and without an entitlement mentality. They don’t necessarily have to be fully-educated or trained; many employers are happy to do their own training. Many feel that the employers’ perspective is not being heard in the employment discussion.”
To address this disconnect, the Chamber has devised a new initiative called ‘Bridges to Work’. Two professional part-time Advocates were appointed in late 2021 and a series of events are now being planned to help employers connect directly with school leavers and beneficiaries, allowing them to come into the workplace, test the waters and work their way into a job.
“Take the timber industry for example. You can be a forklift driver, an IT expert, a timber grader, a sales or marketing expert, or you can operate modern, complex, big machines full of electronics… the options within any one company are massive. So, by taking people to sites like Red Stag, they can actually see some of these options. We want to help do that physical matchmaking from the employers’ end,” Bryce explains.
The Chamber has established a group of leading employers (dubbed ‘the gathering of the willing’) who want to be involved in such discussions. “They’re coming up with some really constructive ideas and there’s individual solutions for individual employers. So that’s why we’re calling it Bridges to Work. Because what works for one employer doesn’t necessarily work for another,” Bryce explains.
“We’ve got one employer, for example, who works with the Department of Justice and brings in people from prison and rehabilitates them back into employment. We’ve got others that work with MSD, schools and polytechs to help people get into trades. Others want to take on youth and train them or people who want a change of profession.
“So there’s different solutions for different employers and different pathways that they can adopt. The Chamber is here to facilitate. Our job is to find out where all the opportunities are and help with the matchmaking.”
Bryce says the Chamber works with existing training providers and employee groups such as Toi Ohomai, Schools, MSD, and Youth Hub. Also, with umbrella groups such as Putake Nui. The Chamber communicates an employers’ perspective.
“We don’t want to replicate what they’re doing. We’re working with them, not against them. We are trying to bring the two ends of the equation together and help all parts of the discussion to communicate better.”
All industries and job sectors are welcome to take part in the Bridges to Work programme and join the employers’ group. “We had planned a series of at-work mini expos, sector by sector. But we’re finding that difficult right now because of COVID rules. Schools for example, won't be allowed to come to work sites. So we’re looking at alternative ways of doing it and we’re thinking maybe we’ve got to go to the schools and take the trade options to the schools. The idea is to give young people a chance to test the water and see what they really like.”
Bridges to Work is funded by BayTrust, Rotorua Trust and MSD, with each organisation contributing $37,500 to cover operating costs. Additional funding to help run events specifically for school leavers has been obtained from the Ministry of Education.
Bryce says the funding is absolutely critical. “We have two professionals working on this part time and we’ve got to fund their wages. And then of course, they have associated costs with running meetings, interacting with people and setting up events to take employers to employees and vice versa. We are very thankful for everyone’s financial support.”
The Chamber is confident the new programme will be well received, especially as the city’s tourism sector looks to resurrect itself. “They’ve lost most of their staff and will have to go back and re-employ people when they do get going again,” he says.
While the Chamber is involved in delivering many different types of programmes, Bridges to Work is the most intensive one they’ve undertaken in the employment space. “Our goal is to help employers meet their needs for staff because right now many are struggling.”