24 April 2002


List of partnership initiatives between the Department of Work & Income
and Mayors and Councils

“ What I’d like to do is see the Mayors take a more active role in helping us direct where some of the resourcing goes, because I think they’ve got some good ideas about what their communities will benefit from ... ”
Ray Smith

“ The move towards more sustainable employment outcomes is a much more longer-term focus and that’s something which I think will get a lot of community support. I think it will reposition the role that the people in Work & Income will play...”
Ray Smith

“ I think that a lot of the unemployment issue that we face is a social issue as much as a labour market demand issue. I think that a number of people, particularly those that have been on unemployment for a long time, have had a series of social barriers that are preventing them from getting to a job and working successfully in a job. It’s not so much a lack of jobs.”
Ray Smith

Work & Income National Commissioner
Ray Smith

raysmith.jpg - 7745 Bytes

... talks with The Jobs Letter editor Vivian Hutchinson about what social development means to Winz, and how his Department will be working closer with the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs.

The Jobs Letter: How is the Work & Income Department different now that it is under the new Ministry of Social Development?

Ray Smith: I think the thing that’s going to be quite different for us is the focus on sustainable employment outcomes. This is a step up from where we’ve been with the focus on stable employment outcomes.

If you chart the history of the Department, there was a time when there was a focus on just placing anyone into any sort of job. Then we moved to more stable employment outcomes where you try to keep people at a job for a longer period and a focus on those that were more long-term unemployed. Now with MSD, the move is more to focus on sustainable employment outcomes. This means trying to get people into jobs that are self fulfilling that will give them the sort of disposable income that is worth staying in that work.

I think it also means us taking a broader responsibility for someone’s ongoing development so if they end up in an entry-level job we don’t just leave them there. Our case management team is going to have to follow these people a bit further ... otherwise they will be back with us.

The Jobs Letter: How will this look different to an unemployed person coming into the Work & Income offices?

Ray Smith: I think what they will see is a growing amount of “in-work” support programmes which will mean a mixture of trying to make the job worthwhile and easing the transition into work — helping them with either transport or childcare or whatever makes the break between being on a benefit and being at work.

That transition can be difficult and expensive, particularly for those job seekers that we think are at risk.

We will stay with them. We will put people with them and mentor and support them so when things do go wrong — with an employer, or at home, or financially — we can try and keep them in the work place rather than have them come back to us and repeat the cycle.

From an employer perspective what might change is we’re particularly interested in getting into stronger industry partnerships.

At the moment, most of the services we deliver deal with placing people with individual employers in a one-on-one basis. I think we’d like to move to a situation where we are dealing at an industry level, so that we can try and secure opportunities for people across the industry.

We will fund industry partnerships. One of the visions that we had for it is that rather than just funding individuals on a wage subsidy we might be able to do deal with an industry grouping to provide training and subsidies and support.

This means that the industry will take long-term job seekers knowing that we’re in partnership with them.

The Jobs Letter: How do you see the philosophy of "social development" affecting your department?

Ray Smith: It gives us a new framework on how to operate with people. While people that are in Work & Income are on the ground going about their task in the way that they always have, we’re also trying to introduce a stronger sort of social development focus to doing things.

I think that change represents staying with people for longer on their journey and trying to see them achieve more success rather than just dealing with them one intervention after another.

We’ve got some ways to go with that. We’ve got some models and that we’ve tried some things ... but it’s a question of whether we can stitch all that together so that people can see the transition perhaps from school, to work and to a better job and to a career.

The move towards more sustainable employment outcomes has the potential to change the way that this organisation operates with job seekers on the longer term.

It’s a much more longer-term focus and that’s something which I think will get a lot of community support. I think it will reposition the role that the people in Work & Income will play.

The Jobs Letter: You’ve signed an agreement with the Minister of Employment to support the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs more closely on their objectives, particularly on their youth employment goals. What will that mean for the department and what would it look like for the Mayors?

Ray Smith: What I’m after is a partnership between every Mayor in the country and their local Regional Commissioner.

Increasingly it seems that the membership of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs group is growing and so hopefully we’ll get most Mayors within that grouping ... which will make it easier for us to be engaged. Most Mayors on the whole want to do something in the social area so I want to see ourselves in a partnership with them in which we try to generate initiatives together that will provide job seekers with opportunities.

I think we’re doing well and we’ve got 115 initiatives between the Department and Mayors and their Councils at the moment.

The Jobs Letter: What can you specifically offer the Mayors in this partnership?

Ray Smith: What I am most interested in is firstly generating ideas and then secondly sorting out how some of those are funded. We can offer a range of ways of supporting those programmes through funding and subsidies, and we have a lot of resources at our disposal. But what we struggle with more is generating initiatives.

Sometimes in discussions Mayors have told us: “I need some money in order to generate some ideas to do some things”. I want to start from the other point of view by saying: We’ll find a way to meet the initiatives you want to do, we’ll find a way to fund them and to pay for them. But what we are struggling with is getting the initiatives in the first place.

The reason I say this is because it applies even in our own organisation. Managers will often say to me that they need money to do something and I’ll ask them to tell me what it is they really want to do first, and then we’ll think about how to pay for it.

My experience has been it has been much harder to generate initiatives that are new or different and are going to make a contribution to things — but I think people seem to see it the other way around. They often see it as being a money issue first.

For myself, I don’t think the money is a huge issue in this area perhaps because there is enough money in the system. It’s more a matter of getting it directed and to the right parts. What I’d like to do is see the Mayors take a more active role in helping us direct where some of the resourcing goes, because I think they’ve got some good ideas about what their communities will benefit from.

The Jobs Letter: So what sort of ideas or innovations are you looking for?

Ray Smith: I have asked the Regional Commissioners to try and develop “Community Coalitions” which bring together the Department and the Mayor and some of the other key players in the community and other key government agencies. The Coalitions will be a forum to discuss what might be possible.

I’m looking for initiatives, particularly in the youth area. I think that there are a lot of initiatives in that area where there’s a broad community support for trying to get these young people active and participating.

I think initiatives for mature workers are another good example. We probably don’t have a lot of strategies on the ground to address that issue but once again communities are saying this situation is not okay and I think together we might be able to find some ways of dealing with that.

The Jobs Letter: What are some examples from your existing projects with Mayors and Councils?

Ray Smith: In Manukau City our relationship with Mayor Barry Curtis would be a particularly good one. It’s a pretty active council and we’ve got a couple of quite exciting initiatives there. There’s a beef jerky plant that the Americans are wanting to set up there and together with the council and other key government agencies we are going to try and grow a demand for labour and provide the people for it ... through the use of training and subsidies and so on.

We’re setting up a “Value Jobs for Youth” programme in South Auckland, once again with the Council and the NZ Employers Federation in that area, and this programme will be looking to find jobs that are more sustainable and more self-fulfilling for young people.

In the Dunedin area there’s a programme where we are working with the Council on some opportunities in the housing area. We’re trying to grow people in trades by improving the nature of the housing locally.

I think that Christchurch provides an example where the Council is well in front of the game and well organised in dealing with government agencies. We’ve a partnership there that, in terms of our contribution, is valued at least a million dollars.

They are being supported because they have built an infrastructure from their Council and through some of their subsidiary agencies such as the Canterbury Development Corporation that we can partner with. So here we have dedicated youth case managers in each of the service centres in that region matched by the Canterbury Development Corporation. We’re also working in schools with them in terms of the Destination and Tracking Project.

While this works well in Christchurch, it is because Christchurch has a strong infrastructure.

There are a lot of communities which wouldn’t be able to support that level of infrastructure and they will be much more dependent at least in the early stages on Work & Income providing that support ... so it will vary.

The key to all this is the leadership that Mayors can take in this area. I think the Mayors have a more legitimate leadership role here than Regional Commissioners. I think that if we can get the Mayors to take the leadership, we can bring other parties to the problem much more easily.

The Jobs Letter:For nearly two years you have had a policy of “more flexibility” in the regions. What have you learnt from this?

Ray Smith: I just think that the best thing that’s happened is that our staff have a stronger sense that they can influence the outcomes for their clients because they have more freedom to respond to local needs.

We’ve seen a growth in the specialisation of case management to cater for particular groups — be it migrants or mature workers or youth. I think that some of the contracts and the initiatives that we’ve entered into wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t given regional commissioners more freedom to respond to those local needs.

The Jobs Letter: So how does a Mayor get access to these partnership initiatives if they haven’t had contact with you already?

Ray Smith: I’d want a Mayor to feel that it was okay to ring the Regional Commissioner and initialise contact and have a discussion and start to talk through what was possible.

What I certainly want to impress on Mayors who have had good and bad dealings with different government agencies in the past — including this one —is that they don’t need to feel that there are huge constraints and that their ideas for initiatives won’t be possible to do.

The message I’ve been giving my people and I certainly want to give to Mayors is that it is possible that the constraints are not insurmountable. They are not even as bad as they imagine. I think that we’ve demonstrated this with the 115 odd initiatives we’ve got going currently.

We can do most things. There is a way to achieve most of the objectives the Mayors want to achieve and there is a way to try the types of new employment initiatives that they want to try out. I want them not to be worried and not to be fearful that they are going to have some sort of bureaucratic response that says “No” as a starting point. I’d want to hear about it if that was the case.

I want my people to get engaged and to find a way to move forward because there is a way and there is a huge resourcing here that just needs a bit of help at times to be directed in order to gain a much wider community support for the things we want to do together.

The Jobs Letter: From your position, what are you seeing ahead for the one in-eleven New Zealanders who are unemployed and on your books?

Ray Smith: Well I think we are in about as good a position as I can remember us being in. There is good labour market growth and demand and I think what we’ve got to do is just get better at matching people to those opportunities.

So what I would say to an unemployed person is that there is an opportunity for you and I think we can help you get there and then it’s a question of attitude and environment and putting in the effort. We are certainly prepared to put that effort in to try and get those opportunities.

The Jobs Letter: Do you believe there are enough opportunities for all these people?

Ray Smith: I do. I think that a lot of the unemployment issue that we face is a social issue as much as a labour market demand issue. I think that a number of people, particularly those that have been on unemployment for a long time, have had a series of social barriers that are preventing them from getting to a job and working successfully in a job. It’s not so much a lack of jobs.

There are some parts of the country that are remote or isolated where there is a shortage of labour market demand and I think that’s the more challenging aspect as to what do you do in these locations, and how you address that issue. And I don’t think we know all the answers to that.

The Jobs Letter: Do you see generating demand as one of the answers?

Ray Smith: Yes, and I think that Ministry of Economic Development play an increasing role in this. But I think there are also huge opportunities that we haven’t been able to take advantage of. Forestry is a good example where in the forestry industry there is going to continue to be a growth of opportunity and yet there is a reluctance of people to go and work in that industry. This is one of the areas where an industry partnership might be able to defeat that. This is an area of growth in our economy and so I think we’ve got a role in working together to try and find a way to bridge that gap.

So, on the whole, I think that we are actually very well positioned to help a lot of job seekers. I think it’s just a question of getting the right relationships happening at one level and getting people to believe that its possible .

Source — — Vivian Hutchinson interview with Winz National Employment Commissioner Ray Smith. Wellington 11 April 2002


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