Government invests $82 million in regional employment boost

More than $80 million from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) will be invested into a new skills and employment scheme to support workers in regional New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement alongside Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Employment Minister Willie Jackson at Mangatoa Station near Kaikohe in Northland on Monday.

The new initiative, called Te Ara Mahi (Pathways to Work), will be given an investment of $82.4 million to stimulate employment and boost skills in the regions.

"A cornerstone of the PGF is to create jobs, which means ensuring local people have the opportunity to take up work and support the delivery of PGF-funded projects around the country," Ms Ardern said. 

Of the $82.4 million fund, $60 million will go to employment and skill development programmes in five PGF "surge" regions - Northland, Bay of Plenty, Tairawhiti, Hawke's Bay, and Manawatu-Whanganui - which Ms Ardern said have high unemployment, low wages and low productivity.

A further $20 million will be put into programmes in "non-surge" regions, while $2.4 million will used to deliver the programme.

"New Zealand's economy is growing and unemployment is at its lowest in a decade," said Mr Jones.

"Regional New Zealand deserves to share in the economic prosperity of a strong economy, and this funding will equip them with the skills and capability to succeed."

He Poutama Rangatahi (HPR) and the Pacific Employment Support Service (PESS) - which support young Maori and Pasifika New Zealanders respectively into employment - are two programmes which will benefit from the investment. 

HPR will receive $13.2 million and PESS will get $8.85 million.

While Mr Jackson said the number of young people who are not in employment or education is falling nationally, he said the Government is committed to ensuring a sustained focus on rangatahi in the regions and reducing youth unemployment. 

"Nineteen HPR programmes are already underway, helping to get young people ready for work in sectors from forestry to hospitality. 

"The additional funding is a welcome investment to meet the heavy demand that HPR has experienced," said Mr Jackson.

Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio also welcomed the announcement and said the additional funding for PESS as part of Te Are Mahi would help support young Pacific people looking for long-term employment, education or training in centres beyond just Auckland and Hamilton. 

"The PGF funding will enable PESS to expand into greater Waikato, Manawatū-Whanganui, Otago, Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay and Murihuku/Southland.

"It will also expand to include Pacific people aged up to 39 years old who are not earning or learning," Mr Sio said.

Employment hubs will also be set up "to bring government agencies together to respond to specific needs of local employers and potential local workers".

"We're supporting businesses and employers to access the workforce they need when they need it, and giving them confidence to invest in expanding operations in the regions.

"This will help to accelerate job creation, leading to sustainable economic growth," said Ms Ardern.