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Bryan Cadogan

Eliminating Youth Unemployment

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Until recently I was Chair of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs and am in my second term as Clutha District Mayor. After spending time unemployed or in ‘under-employment’, I found my feet in the shearing sheds where I worked for a number of years before owning a farm, then a retail business and then entering politics as the youngest ever Clutha District Councillor in 1998.

Ever tried googling the job description for a Mayor?  Please don’t, because there isn’t one, as I found out six years ago when I was elected Mayor of the Clutha District.

That’s not to say I didn’t know what I wanted to achieve, the problem was articulating it as an action plan. I wanted our district to work to its strengths, to focus on enhancing our youths’ chances of a bright future locally, and to make sure the most disadvantaged were included.

Those first few days were terrifyingly exhilarating, but eventually decisions were made, and one of the first, thankfully, was to visit all our district’s major employers, and the common theme from these visits was that there were hundreds of job vacancies in our area. And these were great jobs with brilliant companies, right across the spectrum from labourers to computer operators, jobs for life and bright prospects for the future.

This is not a phenomena exclusive to Clutha, my time as Chair of Mayors Taskforce for Jobs gave me a unique insight into how surplus jobs exist right across New Zealand.

From the Far North to Southland areas are awash with jobs with employers struggling to find people with even the basic skills to fill them. This sits hand in hand with the perpetual scourge on our society, unemployment, especially youth unemployment that presently hovers around 15%.

It’s about now the usual labels come out along with the banjos, as the bigots in society put forward their worldly slant on the unemployed. We have all heard it before, ‘they’re lazy, they don’t want the work” etc. “RUBBISH” is my opinion after many years working in this area, categorically the bigots are wrong.

It has been my privilege in recent years to front our district’s Ready Steady Work course, a program working with our young unemployed to eliminate youth unemployment in the Clutha District. One thing I know for sure is our young unemployed are doing the very best they can under difficult circumstances and paying a high price for an economy and structures they had no part in creating, as well as a society quick to judge and even quicker to detach itself from its responsibilities. All that’s needed is to show the young ones a bit of respect and understanding and they respond magnificently.

We also have our Government departments, by in large, doing the best they can in a difficult environment, so where’s the weak point, where do we fail?

We sit and bang on about the same old complaints but never take ownership, we allow our kids to spend the first 18 years of their lives preparing for a path to university that only 30% will take, we need the remaining 70% that stay to be better prepared for the environment they will operate in.  They are our future. But, they are not aligning themselves with local employers’ needs, which invariably are as simple as a good attitude and some sort of drivers licence.

Solutions could be as simple as implementing compulsory drivers licences into the school curriculum, and an early identification at around year 10 of students most likely to not be going to university so that a distinctly different academic path can be tailored to their needs. Many Scandinavian countries already have a system, which I can best describe as New Zealand’s ‘Gateway program” on steroids, where suitable students in years 10 to 13 spend half their time in school and half in the work place. Wouldn’t this make learning more relevant and better prepare our young for 45 odd years in a workforce that is presently screaming out for change?

We want all our young to get on with their lives, embracing adult responsibilities, and having the chance to grab opportunities. Don’t we also want safer drivers, and our young not introduced to criminality with a string of driving offences? I question if this is what the present structures produce.

But, most of all I would like to see a wider change in our attitude and how we deal with these issues. To see the potential instead of the problems, to demand change, to stop blaming the young, to stop blaming the Government, to stop detaching yourself from your social responsibility, to stop perpetually making the same mistakes, because our children and grandchildren deserve better.