The need to reform employment assistance in New Zealand


A few months after finishing my Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management I find myself in a familiar situation: trying to figure out how to wield my latest academic acquisition to the best effect, in a constantly changing job market where sometimes it seems I am always behind the 8-ball.

If we wind the clock back to 2004, I was in a similar situation. I completed my undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Science)in Geography. My G.P.A. was poor – about 3.5, but I was finished in 3.5 years, which for someone who needed assistance with note taking and had a writer for exams was probably not a bad achievement.

The job market had moved a bit in that time. Not necessarily a problem at that point, because I had always intended to go back and try postgraduate study part time at some point, which I started in 2005 and completed in 2006 with a G.P.A. of around 4.5

By the time I finished though the job market was about to experience the effects of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. The market for environmental/planning/natural hazard jobs dried up. A solitary job came up in September 2008, which I went for, lost at the interview stage, but got offered a temporary job anyway.

When I took my job at Environment Canterbury it was a summer student job that was meant to end at the end of February 2009. It lasted until mid April 2011. During that time I discovered the limitations of my office skills – I was fine on Word, but not Excel, my report writing style was substandard.

So, after the quake whilst casting around for a job I enrolled at Vision College to do a Certificate of Business Administration. The course content addressed all of those deficiencies and a few I did not realize I had.

Re-entering the job market was still not any easier. Thousands of jobs had been lost in Christchurch in the quake and the market had changed considerably. The agencies normally tasked with helping people find work or re-enter the work force found and – I suspect still find – themselves grinding against straight-jacketed social welfare law.

For example, between February 2017 and October 2018 I was working on a Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management. The purpose of gaining this Diploma was three fold:

  1. Renew dormant research skills that I know I have, but which my current employment does not allow the use of
  2. Show employers that I am still capable of learning
  3. Do original research

Now as I seek once more to try to change my employment direction, I realize that this might be my final throw of the academic dice – it is certainly my best. I do not know what my G.P.A. is, but my guess is that a high end B average is probably nearly 7.0.

I wonder what the future holds for those who are being rehabilitated back into the work force. Employers want to know – rightfully – why one has not been working for extended periods of time. However they often take an unnecessarily conservative approach that I think costs them potentially very loyal employees who not only would stick around, but who could be developed into people capable of bigger roles such as team leaders or managers.

Yes some of these people have had a prior criminal history. They might have been on drugs in their youth after leaving school with no qualifications and have committed a crime 25 years ago. But what if they have done the time, renounced the drugs, got a stable partner, gone back to school or some other educational institution and done a trade or a degree?

Well done to them for rebuilding their lives. Do they not deserve a chance? I think they do. Otherwise it is not only they who suffer, but if it leads to a relapse in their condition then the whole of society suffers.

Some people have medical history, like me. Diagnosed at age 8 with severe hypertension. Coupled with hearing impairment, I have struggled for work in the fields of academic endeavour that I studied in. Part of it might be because employers, seeing that I have hypertension possibly suddenly become nervous about hiring someone that they worry might have an accident on their watch. It is kind of interesting that I hold a steady 40 hour a week job in the rental car sector, a sector I knew nothing about and had no connections in. I have now been in it for nearly 5.5 years.

Will this continue to limit me? I hope not. In some respects I have been lucky to have good parental support, a good current employer, but not everyone is like that.

 

 

 

The doubled sword of Crown Minerals Act change


It has been presented in the media as a double edged sword. On one hand we have the well publicized statement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with full support of the Green Party that by 2050 oil and gas will be banned in New Zealand. On the other the more pro-development New Zealand First Member of Parliament and Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones is touting a $1 billion hydrogen gas development in Taranaki.

Taranaki in the 1980’s had a very large energy projects underway. These were part of the Robert Muldoon Government’s “Think Big” scheme which called for large industrial projects that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, boost the New Zealand economy and address significant energy shortages. They included a methanol plant at Waitara and a synthetic fuel plant at nearby Motunui.

Now in 2018, Mr Jones is talking about the possibility of an American consortium developing a multi-billion dollar emissions free plant based on existing technology. 8 Rivers have announced a project in which they build a plant using Allam Cycle technology that they developed in the United States and which is used at a plant in Texas.

Whilst I am interested to see how the technology will be used and what any Government feasibility study will show, I have some concerns on both sides of the fence. Notably:

  1. It might be emissions free technology, but how will the gas be extracted. If it is fracking one can expect significant resistance from the Greens/Greenpeace over potential damage to groundwater, and other parts of the environment – one can also expect resistance purely based on ideology as well
  2. Who would fund it? My parents generation will be wary of anything that looks like another “Think Big” project on the grounds of the parlous financial state that the original ones left New Zealand in
  3. How would the American consortium construct the project and would New Zealand communities nearby receive due benefits for hosting it

Not surprisingly, especially with the Government’s statement on ending oil and gas by 2050, there is excitement among local businesses and Mayors, keen on getting some confidence back into a region heavily reliant on energy projects.

Back in 1979 when the Muldoon Government was pushing for energy independence, New Zealand was probably not ready for such ambitious projects and their costs. Despite worsening Middle East tensions and the rises in the price of oil caused by the fall of the Shah in Iran and the Arab oil shock of 1973 following the Yom Kippur War, compared with the price of petroleum today, it was even then quite low. Our transport system, energy market and infrastructure was not ready for something that then was probably a couple decades ahead of its time.

But 40 years later with concerns about the impact of fossil fuels now widely advertized and concerns about energy dependence in the future justified, this debate rears its head once again. The sword being wield though, depending on which side of the blade strikes you, is another thing all together.

Are University qualifications worth their cost?


When I went to University of Canterbury, getting a tertiary degree was very much the “in” way of gaining a good qualification. It did not seem to matter too much what it was in, despite the significant cost increases since 1989’s education reforms having strongly increased the incentive to choose wisely. Arts, science, engineering, social work or law – all were “good to go”. In many ways they still are, but with university graduates finding it harder to find work, people are starting to question whether degrees are worth the cost any more.

I started in Geology in July 2000, intending to walk away with a Bachelor of Science. My postgraduate study would be entirely contingent on how my undergraduate degree went. I switched to Geography in 2002, having reached Year 3 in that major before getting out of Year 1 in Geology. Admittedly marks were mediocre, C+’s B-‘s with one or B’s interspersed for good measure. I think my Grade Point Average was about 3.00 or about a C+.

With those marks I knew I was not going to get into postgraduate study very easily, so I took a year off to refresh, travel and see about a Postgraduate Diploma in 2005-06 – my G.P. had warned me off attempting a Bachelor of Science with Honours because of the stress that it entailed in the Honours year.

The reasons for doing postgraduate study were simple. It amplified your job prospects considerably because your ability to be organized; conduct research and whole host of attributes useful for working in the work place were going to be exposed. It also opened up a whole lot of other opportunities including voluntary sector jobs that relied more on attributes than knowledge would pop up. And last but not least, those that made it into postgraduate are serious students with talent to burn.

And so that largely turned out for the students in my postgraduate years. With the exception of one or two they all found decent jobs, and most are now married or in steady relationships with children and trying to get on the property ladder.

I was one of the exceptions. The others started off nicely and bailed for various reasons. In my case I tried to find work, but I think a combination of employers being reluctant to hire people with declared medical risks, my work skills not being up to scratch and a worsening gambling addiction that interfered with my attitude all combined to delay my progress. I had envisaged as a result of my study, by my mid 30’s being out of home, steady partner and job doing something linked to my skill set. At this stage I cannot tick any of those boxes.

But how much would my study have helped? To be fair it certainly would have have helped, but would it have been a complete one size fits all solution? I am not sure it would have been.

Over the years, I have come to believe that the goal posts have moved. Employers have different expectations of what they want from employees. A failure to invest in research development and technology means it is a cut throat environment trying to find a job. Scores of great potential employees all looking for jobs that in many cases simply do not exist. But many of them have a bit of money, so they simply waved goodbye to New Zealand as soon as they got a visa to where they wanted to go and in some cases have not been seen since.

But what about those that do not have that money? What about those like me who have to live with long term medical factors? I could happily live somewhere else, but I have one problem. I cannot ever stop my medication. If I do I would lose control of my blood pressure and I have never been 100% confident I would be able to pay for the medication overseas. And so, I am stuck in the one country I am sure that I can.

Recently I completed a Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management. Much was learnt and I have had by far the best marks ever in my tertiary study. At the Open Polytechnic, I demonstrated my ability to do serious research. I demonstrated my ability to be organized by completing it a month ahead of schedule and fitting in an overseas trip at the same time.

It has not changed what I want to do. I still want to work in environmental regulation or natural hazards. I still think a local government, Crown Research Institute or N.G.O. is the best way to go.

But was the Graduate Diploma worth the effort if employers have moved the goal posts again? Do not get me wrong – it was a superb result and I am still feeling the after glow weeks after getting the final marks, but what if it fails to be the break through I was hoping for? What then?

 

 

A clean out needed at Russell McVeagh?


A report came out yesterday about Russell McVeagh’s toxic work culture. And it was a damning one at that.

The firm, which has handled legal duties for a range of Government departments, will be doing some considerable soul searching over the next several days as it comes to grips with the news that sexual harassment is a major problem in its offices.

So will the chair of Russell McVeagh, Marttin Crotty now apologize to the staff, to the legal profession in full? if he does, will he also step aside or follow as directed any recommendations made by the report of Dame Margaret Bazley who was assigned responsibility for investigating the claims?

That remains to be seen.

Action is inevitable if New Zealand’s legal profession wishes to avoid significant damage to its overall reputation. It is not acceptable to be enabling or giving the appearance of enabling the culture of behaviour that Russell McVeagh stand accused of. From groping junior female staff, to making sexually suggestive comments and gestures; from turning a blind eye to complaints of such inappropriate behaviour to suggesting that its the way to advance a career in law, clearly a major problem exists at R.M.

There might well be a culture of excessive drinking which needs to be curved, but that is not an explanation or justification for the abuse that has been alleged to have gone on. Drunk or not, it is not okay ever to grope or otherwise feel up someone in a sexual manner without their permission. It is not okay to make lewd remarks about a persons body in a professional environment.

And this is 2018. It is not the middle of the 20th Century. It is not a time when such behaviour was simply ignored, or a time when a whole profession should be able to behave as if sexual harassment is not an issue.  It is a time when #MeToo is making people in nations big and small, rich and poor, wake up and realize that sexual harassment is a major and ongoing problem in the film industry. Will it be fully resolved in my lifetime to everyone’s satisfaction? Unlikely, but do nothing is not an option. It is a time that is long overdue.

No doubt the last few days have been hugely embarrassing for Mr Crotty as he takes stock of the cutting criticism. Sitting in a room telling the media with hand over his heart that there is not a sexual harassment problem, as Mr McVeagh first did in 2017, only to be found otherwise is hugely damaging. I sincerely doubt Mr Crotty did not know at least some of what was going on.

I will wait to see what happens, but my guess is that he will be made to walk.

But simply making the Chair walk might not be enough. What about the senior partners who supposedly knew better than to harass those female workers? None of them should survive this. What about the people who knew stuff was happening but failed to report it? Should they go as well?

But even if all of these resignations/sackings happen, will that clear out the toxic elements of the work environment? If not, then Russell McVeagh might be in bigger trouble than we thought.

Major employment law overhaul coming


The Government promised that it would substantially overhaul New Zealand’s employment laws in its first couple of years in office.

During the years of the National-led Government of former Prime Minister John Key and later former Prime Minister Bill English, significant concerns were raised about New Zealand workplace relations. Concerns existed about:

  • How migrant workers were treated and their understanding (or lack of)of their rights as employees in New Zealand
  • The youth wage, which was reintroduced during the Ministerial tenure of Simon Bridges
  • Occupational Safety and Health, especially in fisheries, farming and other high risk industries where a number of high profile cases occurred

The concerns were not restricted to just the ones mentioned above. These were just the more frequent  ones. They were also the issues that tended to provoke the strongest public reaction.

When an attempt was made to amend the rules around when employees could have breaks, whilst at work, concerns were raised about the potential for exploitation. In some professions having regular breaks unless one is in an office environment, might not be always possible, in which case the employer has to reach an agreement with the affected employee/s about some sort of compensatory measure to cover. The new provisions in the incoming legislation require that the employer permit a 10 minute break in work lasting 2 hours but less than 4 hours; a 10 minute break + a 30 minute break if it exceeds 4 hours but is less than 6; 2x 10 minute breaks + a 30 minute break if exceeding 6 but is less than 8.

Trueto form, The Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2018 is before Parliament now and currently open for public submissions. The closing date for submissions is Friday 30 March 2018.