South Waikato employment programme provides local jobs

South Waikato-based employment programme WORKit has secured a second round of funding after demonstrated success last year helping the district’s youth who are not in employment education or training (NEETs) find and sustain work.

A collaboration between the South Waikato District Council and the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ), WORKit is funded by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and is one of a number of nationwide Community Recovery Programme projects working towards a vision to have all young people under 25 in appropriate education, training, work or other positive activities in their community.

Established in April 2021 and initially funded for six months, the programme has been spearheaded by full-time WORKit Connector and Tokoroa local Paniora Daniels. The initiative exceeded its six-month objective of securing 25 sustainable employment roles within half that time and has secured 12 more months of funding.

“The programme is about understanding the status of our youth at the moment,” says South Waikato District Mayor Jenny Shattock. “We are absolutely thrilled to have secured new funding to continue the programme. We’re working hard to connect with those young people who are not in employment, education or training and to help build relationships with employers who can support them to build careers.

“We aim to secure another 50 full time employment roles within the 12 months.”

Shattock also says in the wake of COVID-19 and economic uncertainty, job prospects for NEETs are looking far more positive thanks to the success of the WORKit programme.

“South Waikato is currently sitting at 16.4% unemployed in the 18-24 age group, approximately 300-400 people,” she says. “While Paniora is the sole WORKit connector currently, we are developing a framework with longevity that includes hiring a second connector. It’s a very exciting time.”

With close ties to his local community, Paniora works with the families of young people looking for jobs, in a holistic whanau-centred approach.

“Within the current WORKit cohort there are 29 on the books we are working with,” he says. “Overall, we can service whanau into employment too. It’s not just about the cohort - yes we have to achieve an outcome and have targets to meet but if we can support everyone else into employment as well, it’s a win for the community.”

Of the employment opportunities secured last year, seasonal horticultural work and manufacturing were among the most successful, with WORKit often bridging the gap between employer and employee, supporting sole traders and entrepreneurs in the district.

“Our community walk-in site is located at the Impact Hub in Tokoroa, a local business support group that is funded by the South Waikato Investment Fund Trust and South Waikato District Council,” Daniels says.

“There’s a lot of development taking place in the district right now, and all these people are looking for business startups - it’s a good place to find work opportunities, and we are able to support seven business start-ups with the assistance of Impact Hub.”

While leveraging opportunities through Impact Hub, Daniels has also worked closely with the local network of stakeholders that includes Raukawa Charitable Trust, South Waikato Pacific Island Community Trust, Cook Island Society, YMCA, high school Gateway co-ordinators, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and Te Wananga O Aotearoa.

When it comes to expanding the WORKit cohort, it’s also through community ties such as coaching the local league team that Paniora is seeking to target more South Waikato residents in need of employment.

“We attract new sign ups through a range of different channels and need to think proactively. We’ve set up a social media platform to cater to the youth in the district, with content targeted at the 16–25-year-old youth group,” he says.

“We attract more interest through word of mouth, my connections with the community, local stakeholders and local Ministry of Social Development.”

One local who succeeded in securing work late last year is 22-year-old Shayden Teao, who helped establish the new Green Frame steel framing manufacturing plant that was opened in Putāruru in December.

Green Frame aims to build modular, sustainable homes in the district and beyond, to help revitalise the town and bring further growth to the district. The new business is expected to require a large workforce of more than 40, and WORKit has succeeded in placing four employees there already.

“After not being able to find a job in Tokoroa or Putāruru I needed to move to Hamilton, away from friends and family to work,” Teao says.

“I had a couple of mates through league who were already in WORkit. Paniora is our league coach, and a few of the boys had signed up through him. He told me about the opportunities, and I went for it.

“We helped start the company up from scratch which has been really good to learn, fixing up the joint where we work and finding out how to start a business. I’m also working with a couple of mates from the league team. I’ve never worked with close mates before,” he continues.

“WORKit is really promising a lot of good things to come for the area and it’s good to be the first people to be a part of this – there is nothing but good things at the moment, and I’m very grateful.

“I’m hoping this year’s a good year.”

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