Politics

Ardern announces regional employment initiative

Employment hubs will be set up around regional New Zealand as part of a new $82.4 million skills and employment initiative, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

The Te Ara Mahi (Pathways to Work) initiative, part of the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), has been launched by Ardern and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones as part of her four-day Waitangi visit.

Unveiling Te Ara Mahi at the Landcorp-owned Mangatoa Station in Northland, Ardern said it would help to deliver on one of the PGF’s “cornerstones” by creating jobs in the regions.

“We want to support people to learn the skills needed for local jobs while also helping employers meet their growing labour force needs,” Ardern said.

Ardern said $60m had been ringfenced for five of the fund’s “surge regions” - Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Tairāwhiti, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatū-Whanganui - which had particular problems with high unemployment, low wages or lower productivity.

Another $20m would be available for other regions, with the final $2.4m going towards the programme’s delivery.

Ardern said the Government had already decided to provide $13.2m for the He Poutama Rangatahi programme, set up to provide employment pathways and “intensive pastoral care” for young Māori who were not in employment, education or training (NEETs).

A further $8.8m would also go towards expanding the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ Pacific Employment Support Service, which helps Pacific youth into employment, education or training, into regional New Zealand.

The money will also expand the programme’s eligibility to include Pacific people up to 39 years of age.

New employment 'hubs'

Ardern said Te Ara Mahi would also support the development of cross-agency employment hubs to help address the needs of local employers and potential workers.

“These hubs will empower communities by bringing people and business together to access the full range of government employment support services, including access to work-readiness courses and training opportunities.”

Jones said the PGF was about scaling up the support available to employers so they could hire locals, while also supporting young Māori who were disproportionately featured in NEET statistics.

In a separate regional announcement, Ardern said the Government would invest $21m in connecting marae to the internet and establishing regional digital hubs for local people and businesses.

Ardern said the hubs would offer services like free WiFi, co-working spaces and guidance on how businesses could use the internet, helping to bridge the “digital divide” between urban and rural parts of New Zealand.

"All New Zealanders should be able to have that access and the knowledge of how to use [the internet] regardless of where they live,” she said.

Jones said the marae connectivity funding would cover physically connecting marae to broadband networks, as well as technical support and training.

“Marae are meeting places for whānau, hapū and iwi, and are central to many rural communities. Improving connectivity will support communities to undertake economic activity and enhance their capability,” he said.

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