A suite of new support initiatives has been announced by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) as New Zealand braces for unemployment to surge in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The measures are designed to fast-track unemployed Kiwis back into jobs as the economic turmoil wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic increasingly leaves them out of work.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, who announced the new initiatives on Tuesday afternoon, said they're an attempt by the Government to "act quickly and proactively" to deal with the onslaught of new job seekers.
"People want to stay in work, and the Government delivered a $10.4 billion wage subsidy to ensure employers and employees stay connected," she said.
"But due to the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions, unemployment will rise before it improves. MSD is delivering a suite of employment service initiatives to ensure they can effectively engage with more New Zealanders in this unprecedented time."
These initiatives include an online recruitment tool, which aims to connect job seekers directly to the employer, making it quicker and easier for people to find work. The tool has just gone live, and provides online training courses.
There are also 35 new employment centres across the country, working with employers and job seekers over the phone and online under alert level 3. Under level 2, face-to-face engagement with clients, employers and providers will be allowed.
Meanwhile a new employment service is in the works for those directly impacted by COVID-19 who are not on a main benefit, while a fast-tracking service has been established for benefit applicants who need to re-engage quickly with the job market.
The MSD also has efforts underway to set up "quick upskilling solutions" in partnership with industries, such as the free online Community Health course with NZQA Unit Standards.
Sepuloni says many of these employment measures had already been ramping up before the coronavirus outbreak made its way to our shores, as part of the MSD's welfare overhaul.
"Last year we budgeted for 263 more MSD work-focused case managers, and invested significantly in programmes that support both employment and upskilling, and training like mana in mahi," she said.
"Before New Zealanders went into alert level 4, the Government worked quickly to stand up rapid response teams from MSD across the country to work in regions immediately affected like Tairāwhiti.
"MSD has continued to place people into work under alert level 4 by phone, including redeploying people to essential services."
Of the 7694 Kiwis who started receiving a benefit in the last week, 6991 of those (90 percent) were for jobseeker support. Sepuloni says that increase was expected.
"It’s a global phenomenon. Countries that we compare ourselves to like the US, UK and Australia are experiencing dramatic increases in unemployment during Covid-19. We are not alone."
Those needing support to get back into work are urged to contact MSD online or over the phone.