Helping youth into employment

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan's announcement last week that there would be no youth unemployment in the district by year-end is a bold but brilliant move should it become a reality.

In September, Work and Income New Zealand estimated there were 85 people under the age of 24 unemployed in the district. While that number was expected to reduce as seasonal work became available, the mayor claimed all the unemployed youth doing a new training course in the district wanted jobs - and would get them - as they would be attractive prospects for employers.

The month-long Ready, Steady, Work course is funded by the Ministry of Social Development and is a joint approach between the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs and more than a dozen of Clutha's major employers, who will offer mentorship and jobs in factories, forestry, agriculture and other sectors. The course began on November 5 and, by December 6, Mr Cadogan is confident all those completing it will be offered a job.

While the results remain to be seen, the mayor and the employers should be commended for taking such a proactive approach to the issue of youth unemployment.

Earlier this month, the latest quarterly figures from Statistics New Zealand showed overall unemployment rose to an annual rate of 7.3% in September, up from 6.8% in June, putting the total number of unemployed (175,000 people) the highest in 13 years. It was the third consecutive quarter in which the number of unemployed had risen.

The overall seasonally adjusted youth (aged 15 to 24) Neet (not in employment, education, or training) rate increased slightly to 13.4%. The female youth Neet rate increased slightly to 15.8%, and the Neet rate for young men increased slightly to 11%. The increases were not considered to be statistically significant as since the December 2011 quarter the youth Neet rate has hovered between 13.1% and 13.5%.

While the Government has attempted to address employment issues - and policies such as its Job Ops scheme, youth rates to encourage employers to take on young workers and increased funding for skills training may go some way towards helping youngsters find jobs - the policies have also been criticised as being unworkable or not going far enough.

The effects of unemployment are far-reaching. Unemployment at the beginning of someone's working life, when a young person is beginning to make their own way in the world, can set up patterns of behaviour that are hard to break, contribute to low self-esteem, isolation and mental health issues, can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, which in turn can lead to crime. Long term, unemployment has a cost for the unemployed and society through increased welfare dependency and poverty and health issues.

For youth, the problems are exacerbated as they grow older and compete in a highly competitive and tight job market perhaps without any qualifications, work history or references from employers.

The social unrest caused by spiralling youth unemployment has been illustrated in rallies in various European capitals recently, as recent data shows youth unemployment in the likes of Greece and Spain has reached 58% and 54.2% respectively.

The Clutha programme is therefore also praiseworthy because it recognises the complex and trickle-down effects of youth unemployment, targets the issue at a local level and provides a holistic, supportive approach.

The course incorporates a fitness and healthy eating programme, includes mentoring, and youths must pass a drugs test to be eligible for employment.

As Mr Cadogan said: "These are good kids who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in a situation they don't deserve, brought on by a worldwide recession." The outcome of the course and Mr Cadogan's prophecy will be eagerly anticipated.

And whatever the results, the district's youth should count themselves lucky they have such passionate, committed and supportive community leaders working to ensure they are equipped to start making their way in the world.