Nine mayors from around the country met with heads of government departments concerned with training and employment. Departmental heads were asked to address the following questions and then engage in a discussion with the Mayors.
The Department was beginning to look more critically at how they could assist the increase of jobs by using programmes more flexibly. They acknowledged the importance of the Mayors' ability to bring people together by taking a facilitation and co-ordination role. With regard to evaluation and research, Nigel Bickell said they were building a framework to actually ask what really works and why. They were also looking at the barriers for employers tax, benefit levels, disincentives and identifying skill shortages.
In response to questions concerning the lack of knowledge about benefit entitlement, Ray Smith said they would look at getting more people out of the office to tell people what was available, particularly in rural areas.
Subsidised job placement had worked well for many employers but the budget had been reduced due to underspending in previous years. Job placement was now $1.5 million over budget so the Department would be looking at a different mix for the next budget round. There was a lot of potential in those currently using overtime to create another job if subsidies were available, particularly for training.
In reply to a question from Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore regarding the ability to move money within the various categories, Christine Rankin replied that there was no flexibility to shift operational funding, but that the DWI could move staff into the community.
The Department also noted that, although it was slow, and not happening widely enough, there was more co-operation across government departments, and the government was very keen for this to happen.
In conclusion Christine Rankin said that she was happy for the Mayors to make direct contact with her, and perhaps a sub-group could be formed to work more closely with the Department to help respond at the local level and really make a difference.
Youth Training is a big programme, which was created when the Department of Work and Income was set up. The Training Opportunities (TOPS) money was split between youth and other programmes. That decision has not been re-visited it is not seen as a priority, but there was some indication that Labour policy was to re-integrate the programme. There has been a lot of experimentation from Training Providers, which has resulted in an increase of those under 16 entering the programme. Currently 20% are 15-year-olds. There is usually an individually tailored programme, which covers many areas such as youth justice and health, and so is not just a vocational training programme. He noted that youth training had been most successful where there was a component of workplace learning included in the programme.
In reply to questions, Max Kerr agreed that there was fragmentation regarding school leavers with no particular agency (or a co-ordinated approach) taking responsibility for tracking them. He also agreed that training and apprenticeships were uneven around the country, and many smaller areas missed out due to lack of numbers.
Mayors voiced concerns about rural areas, and the need to look at infrastructure such as transport and telecommunications. They also noted that the rural areas would need more resources.
There are currently funds budgeted for up to about 3,000 apprenticeship places. Max Kerr speculated that the need could be for around 10,000 15,000 places. This compares with 25,000 places in the 1980's. The growth in industry training has been in the older age group with only 10% of the 63,000 in training under 20 years of age. There needed to be a diversity of options work, training, and school. He said employers were very keen if it could be made easier, not necessarily through subsidies but with help in assessing and developing training programmes, recruitment and skills analysis. There may be a shortage of young people coming forward for apprenticeships. This could perhaps be attributed in part to school perceptions of trades and it was a challenge to change that perception.
Max Kerr agreed to come back to the Mayors with suggestions about how they could help improve the training situation.
The Ministry also makes policy recommendations for the Department of Work and Income on regulations such as benefit stand-down periods.
Ministry staff are currently working with a maori resource panel and beneficiary advocacy groups and building relationships with local authorities. They are also working on an agreement with the private sector. There is a large unit working on community issues alongside Internal Affairs, community groups and Local Government New Zealand. Sue Mackwell agreed they had limited input from outside Wellington, and Mayors noted that they could help with consultation at the local level.
Mayors also suggested that there should be social impact advice alongside Treasury advice when papers were going to Cabinet.
The Ministry had access to very little research concerning rural communities or young school leavers. Sue also agreed that there was a major co-ordination issue with regard to obtaining appropriate information.
The Ministry wanted the direction to be set by the regions and to design programmes, which were flexible and able to be applied in different situations.
The Ministry was also concerned with sustainability and is currently developing a working definition of sustainability. The new approach is to ensure a balance between the economic and the social outcomes for communities. Principles and programmes will be outlined and designed within the Ministry, and Industry New Zealand will be the delivery arm. The Ministry will also provide advice to the Industry New Zealand Board and will maintain a close relationship with the agency and Board.
They have already assisted about 250 firms with clustering of small business and business investment links.
The regional partnership programme has had 137 expressions of interest with applications totalling $109 million. However, the budget for the programme is $5 million. Initially most of the money allocated has been for regional strategy development. However there is no on-going finance for the delivery of the strategy at this point. Mayors suggested that a better indication of the amount of money available would produce more realistic applications. Industry New Zealand is currently going through the applications. They have also received 91 applications for the Enterprise Awards, totalling $225,000.
The government was trialing the acute region strategy, with the first region having set up the Tairawhiti Task Force for the East Coast. Northland and Eastern Bay of Plenty are the next two regions.
The Ministry is looking at co-ordinating research on regional development and pulling together what other departments are doing. Two staff are working on the research needs.
In reply to questions from Mayors regarding the capacity of the Ministry, Roger Wigglesworth acknowledged that regional development was a new process for them. Industry New Zealand was debating the idea of establishing regional offices, but no decisions had been made to date. Mayors expressed concern about setting up another regional structure, and suggested working through the existing agencies and networks such as Economic Development Units and that the Ministry should seek advice and information from the local level.
LMPG's role is to give policy advice and to respond to ideas and issues from government. Advice is based on research, analysis, community connections and input from other agencies (eg. DWI, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economic Development etc.) They have developed the Human Capability Framework, which has elements of capacity and opportunity, mechanisms that link the two aspects, and looks at what impacts on both capacity and opportunity. Capacity involves people/skills, training, employment, work readiness and opportunity involves jobs, health and safety policy, what hinders job growth etc. The employment strategy sits underneath that framework. The group cooperates closely with the Department of Work and Income.
LMPG have begun work on literature concerning the changing nature of work and have funds allocated in the next financial year to advance this project.
Geoff Bascand noted that the group had similar goals to those of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs.
Community Employment Group is the government's primary resource for developing community employment capacity. It is largely a fieldworker agency with 67 fieldworkers throughout New Zealand, working with communities and community groups. Priority groups are Maori, Pacific Island, women, rural disadvantaged, and urban disadvantaged. They work with a number of stakeholders such as whanau, hapu, iwi, local authorities, business enterprise centres. Capacity building is core business - improving the capacity of groups and communities to meet their needs. CEG works with groups rather than individuals, using a community development process. It is now in a phase of rebuilding, as the regional and national support has been disestablished.
Mayors expressed their desire to work together, particularly where fieldworkers already work with councils. Mayors want to develop a relationship and share ideas. Charlie Moore agreed to work with Mayors to further this suggestion.
CEG have some new initiative funding for Closing The Gaps programmes, community employment organisations and artworks. Community employment organisations are organisations, which are growing opportunities to generate income and employ people. Wage subsidies for the programme will be more flexible. Artworks is grant funding targeted to arts related programmes.
At the moment funding is not allocated on a regional basis, but this may change.