The 'overlooked' Kiwis who could help ease the agricultural labour shortage

The initiative is helping people get licences to drive farm machinery and forklifts.
The initiative is helping people get licences to drive farm machinery and forklifts. Photo credit: File / Getty

With several sectors across the country facing worker shortages due to our closed borders, there are hopes the situation could provide opportunities for people "overlooked in the past".

The New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform is working to help get ex-prisoners into jobs in the provinces, in a move that could help ease the labour gap.

The organisation helps ex-prisoners get drivers licences, which chief executive Mike Williams says makes a massive difference in getting a job.

"What we discovered is that just getting a drivers licence means that half of those released prisoners get a job within a year - and that has a huge impact on reoffending," Williams told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural today on Wednesday.

"If you get a job when you get out of jail the chances of you reoffending are basically cut in half."

He said with labour shortages in horticulture, agriculture, infrastructure and transportation, especially in the provinces, the initiative would benefit not just those looking for work but also sectors in need of workers.

"For the cost of keeping one person in prison for a year we can train around 100 people to Class 2 to 5 licences  - that's big trucks and really big trucks to lay people - as well as providing training in Wheels, Tracks and Rollers so they can operate road works and farm machinery, and forklifts," Williams said.

NZ Howard League runs 17 driving programmes around the North Island, 14 funded by the Provincial Growth Fund and three by NZTA Waka Kotahi.

Williams said a study conducted by social research company Impact Lab had shown that every dollar invested in the driving programme returned $3.26 to New Zealand.

"In fact what you're doing is shifting people off the benefit and into it's worth doing, very worth doing."  

He said the bulk of people in the programme had served their time and were looking to make a new start, while a smaller number are referred to the organisation as they are "on the road to jail - and we try to stop them getting there by getting them a licence".