A group of “silently disengaged” young people are looking for ways to connect with the labour market, says the leader of a pilot programme desgined to help them.
Rachel Rodger heads the Graeme Dingle Foundation’s Career Navigator Community pilot programme which helps 16 to 25-year-olds to find pathways to jobs.
Rodger, who has a background in human resources and joined the foundation last year, said she was surprised to discover an “invisible layer” of youth who had lost connections with the community after leaving school.
“I thought young people just needed help with the CVs and cover letters.
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“But doing research on our three first courses, we found out that there was a whole section of young people who had come out of school, out of scope for quite some time; they had lost the connections and became silently disengaged.
“They just don’t know what they want to do, and they’ve got this kind of overwhelming pressure to choose the right thing.
“They find it really hard to get out and make those first steps, they don’t really know where to start.
“So we had to hugely adapt to get those young people ready to transition and to work,” Rodger said.
The contribution of a psychologist, a nutritionist and an occupational therapist have been added to the 10- week programme.
The free course provides workshops, mentoring, and ongoing support.
Rodger said they also changed the way to approach students by targeting parents, caregivers, and support people.
Brad Jacob’s mum persuaded him to go along the programme, hoping it would help him find his way.
The 17-year-old, who was not long out of school, and unsure of his future direction, found a job thanks to a worksite visit to Picton Z station as part of the course.
“Communication and customer service jobs interested me quite a bit, so when we met Nigel from Z station, we connected with the job a lot,” Brad said.
“The programme is an awesome opportunity to get your foot in the door with so many different industries. It was a total game changer for me.”
Rodger said it was important to reconnect youth with the reality of the job market.
“We are making jobs sound kind of shiny, it’s like unicorns and rainbows, you leave school, and you get the perfect job, and you’ll be happy every day.
“Realistically, that’s not how the world works.
“We are missing telling the young people that it is a balance between doing what you love and what you’re good at, with what is also available right now on the market.”
The programme has five worksite visits to key Marlborough industries that needed workers: viticulture aquaculture, construction, aged care and forestry.
Chair of New Zealand Ethical Employers Tanya Pouwhare, who represents the interests of employers supplying labour to New Zealand’s primary industries, said Marlborough was a tight labour market.
“The actual pool of labour market in Marlborough is quite small and that’s reflecting our unemployment level.
“There is not a lot of available labour in the region to fill all the different positions.
“Because you’ve got silviculture, with all the forests which need to be harvested and replanted, a growing aquaculture industry within Marlborough, you’ve got age care with the demand which will only go up, a growing viticulture sector…”
Marlborough Forestry Association executive officer Vern Harris said the industry had an ongoing labour issue.
“We have a shortage particularly with young people coming through, and we’ve got a lot of older people who are ready to retire so skilled labour is a problem.
“The Covid-19 pandemic does not help, but the issue was there before,” Harris said.
Marlborough Forestry Association former chairman Brendon Whitley said it was hard to attract new people.
“Forestry is very physical. It is hard work, early mornings, you are out there in the weather, and it is the case for a lot of industries.
“And we do compete with the wine industry, it is a lot easier to do grapes.”
Whitley said the industry had to adapt to face the lack of staff.
“Winter is our peak with the planting season, and we need to quadruple our workforce.
“The forestry industry is planting a longer season, which is not ideal because we really want to plant the trees during winter when the trees are dormant.
“Ideally you want to finish in August, but now we have to plant through September, even October.”
In 2019, the latest figures available from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), show there were around 280 people employed in forestry in Marlborough and a further 290-plus in wood processing and commercialisation.
MPI said that the largest demand for additional workers was for silviculture workers, employed in the growing and cultivation of trees.
To address the skilled labour shortage, Te Uru Rākau (Forestry New Zealand) has convened a working group to develop an action plan to support “the development of a skilled, safe, diverse workforce”.
The Government launched a Connected website in response to Covid-19 earlier this year. The Marlborough page has information on forestry careers, including studying forest operations or forestry management through Toi-Ohomai Institute of Technology.
There are also industry training courses for people who are already in the forestry industry and want to gain more skills, or for employers wanting to upskill their staff.