Finding the missing link between employers and kiwi workers

29 Apr 2020 Finding the missing link between employers and kiwi workers image

An employer and someone sitting at home without a job have exactly the same problem: none of us know what is going happen as the country works its way through COVID-19. 

Perhaps we are lucky in that there are lots of companies and consultants offering a range of products to take us through our uncertain future.  While I’ve been writing this blog, four people have contacted me offering solutions.  The catch is that I often have to explain the challenges we are facing to them, for them to tell me that if I work with them, they will develop the solution.  The other approach is to say here’s your solution, but it only takes a few minutes to discover that the solution is nothing new or innovative, just what was on offer pre-COVID lockdown dressed up as something new.

What is needed is new thinking that is truly innovative and not a re-make of a pre-COVID product.  We are in unprecedented times not known to current generations of employers and workers.  This situation is not just a result of COVID-19.  It has been coming for some time. 

Jobs have been progressively lost to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and technology.  People who were bank tellers have had to find new occupations, for example.  What COVID is doing is making a large number of previously gainfully employed people unemployed.  The question is whether they can find employment in the jobs that remain.

The Government is responding with programmes to Keep New Zealand Working with announcements on 28 April 2020 of a Ministry for Social Development (MSD) led “suite of employment service initiatives to ensure they can effectively engage with more New Zealanders in this unprecedented time”.

This initiative is a nuts and bolts job seeking programme, with 35 new employment centres being set up across the country, with MSD fast-tracking services.  Included in the package is working in partnership with industry and that we welcome.

This is a good initiative but to make it work you need:

  1. an employer who has a job
  2. a worker who wants to work in a new industry
  3. tailored training that enables that worker to change skills sets so as to make them employable
  4. the employer and worker to agree to a suitable employment relationship. 

All this does involve working in partnership with industry to a greater extent than before, but regrettably, these are just the mechanics that do not necessarily place anyone in a job that they will continue to do and do well in.

What we need to do is reframe, and consider the changing work environment and what the post-COVID employer requires.  To be frank, it is not a job seeker facility.  The country abounds with job seeker organisations, websites and apps.  What we need is some real innovation to change our attitude to work and how we work. 

A lot of the work that is available now and post-COVID will not be full time.  Workers who have multiple skills applicable to more than one sector will be needed.  They will also need to be flexible because there will be downtimes as well as very busy times with full weeks of work. 

The skills required are not generally taught in our vocational institutions, but they are what our new, constantly changing job future will require.  Meeting educational standards will not be a key.  Flexibility and constant change in the training on offer will be vital. 

How people are taught will also have to change.  The traditional classroom model and on job training will not cut it.  There will need to be full use of technology and AI. 

So, where does the Government fit in?  Yes, with some job seeking services and work brokering but most importantly, the Government has a new and a vital role.  That is to create the working and social environment that enables multi-skilled workers to train and be linked to employers.  There will be downtime for training, and there will be downtime between jobs.  There will be a need for new skills and for training to be provided at short notice.  There will need to be close partnerships with industry, flexibility and the ability to undertake rapid change.

The biggest change will, however, be everyone needing to recalibrate their attitude to work.  This will be our biggest challenge and will require an enormous change to the way we do vocational education. 

Vocational education will need to be de-institutionalised and upgraded to be cutting edge and offer very flexible training options.  For MSD, apart from running a work brokerage service, they will need to support workers between jobs and during training. 

It will be time to change the benefit structure away from a focus on unemployment but to continual upskilling between jobs.  New understandings and terminologies will be needed.  Finally, the Government will need to help employers and workers to embrace the new work ethics and ways of the future. 

Simply said, everyone’s attitude and approach will need to change as the only workers that will be employed will be workers with a multitude of skills.  Today’s job is developing this new approach and making the link between the multi-skilled and employment. 

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive