Employers are being challenged to take on 500 unemployed young people in the next 50 days to give young New Zealanders a break into their first jobs.
Ten of the country's top chief executives have signed an open letter to all Kiwi businesses urging them to back what they're calling the "50/500" campaign.
"As businesses, we have the power to give young people a life-changing opportunity. We can open the door and give them a chance to start their career," the letter says.
The letter is signed by the chief executives of Vodafone, Foodstuffs, Vector, DB Breweries, NZME, Jucy Rentals, Real Journeys, Te Papa, Waste Management and Yellow.
Youth unemployment has come down from a 2009-10 peak of almost 10 per cent not in employment, education or training ("NEET"), and not caring for children, to 7.8 per cent at last count in June.
But that is still worse than a pre-recession low of 6.4 per cent in June 2008.
In actual numbers, 51,800 young people aged 15 to 24 are still NEET and not caring for children, with many more counted as "underemployed" because they are in part-time jobs and still seeking fulltime work.
Yet at the same time the latest NZ Institute of Economic Research survey this month found a net 41 per cent of employers said it was difficult to get skilled labour and a net 14 per cent were struggling to hire unskilled labour.
The campaign aims to bridge that gap by connecting unemployed young people to an education-based website started by Auckland-based Joy Ice Cream in August which allows employers to specify which basic training modules they want potential employees to complete.
The modules take only an hour or a few hours to complete but cover generic work skills such as customer service, financial literacy, health and safety, teamwork and interpersonal communication.
Once they have completed the courses, people can apply for jobs listed on the website and supply electronic summaries of what they have learnt on the courses as well as their CV and a written, audio or video pitch to employers.
Jobs have been listed so far by 19 companies on the Joy Business Academy website, and by three others on a Youthfull website created in collaboration with Auckland Council's Youth Connections scheme. Most are generic jobs, such as "day shift" and "night shift" jobs in any region listed by Z Energy, but some are specific job vacancies in specified places.
Joy Ice Cream's business model is based on creating jobs for young people by giving them franchises to sell ice cream in street stalls, but its "chief enabler" Ken Brophy said the 50/500 campaign was aimed at creating traditional employment as well as new enterprises.
"Five hundred people into work pre-Christmas would be a pretty cool gift to New Zealand," he said.
Jucy chief executive Tim Alpe, who founded his rental car business with his brother when he was just 26, said Jucy struggled to find staff for counter jobs and car grooming and was now recruiting 15 to 20 staff for the country's first 144-bed "capsule hotel" at Christchurch Airport.
NZME chief executive Michael Boggs, whose company publishes the New Zealand Herald, said giving young people jobs was "at the centre of creating a vibrant, innovative workforce that will ensure New Zealand continues to punch above its weight on the global stage".
World's best young butcher
Nine years after starting out as a checkout operator at a Hamilton supermarket, Alana Empson is now officially the world's best young butcher.
Empson, now 27, put her hand up for an internship in the butchery department on her first day at the checkout when she was 18.
Last month she won International Young Butcher of the Year at the World Butchers Challenge in Australia.
She told the Hamilton News last year, when she won the NZ title and was the only woman in the competition, that she volunteered for the butchery job because "I just thought it was something a bit different".
She said the secret to her success was practice, practice and practice.
"I had my partner's kids ask me test questions," she said. "I did eight full run-throughs of my cutting test. We had to do it in one and a half hours, which included a mystery cut."
Her boss Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin said her example showed the advantage of taking a first job, even if it was not where a young person wanted to end up.
"There's no telling how far a young person can go when you give them a real chance and make them feel like they can do anything they put their hand up for," he said.
Boss started putting labels on paint cans
Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin started out putting labels on paint cans. Today his group employs 22,000 people.
Quin, 50, said his first job was putting labels on paint cans at H C Werry & Sons in Lower Hutt.
"It was an after-school job, and literally the first few weeks were just labelling cans. Then I got involved in other aspects of a reasonably busy little retail shop, eventually working upfront with customers and doing deliveries," he said.
"You start where you start and it all builds skills for the future and you can learn from every one of those opportunities.
"If you do whatever you do 100 per cent, the future will look after itself."
Quin went on to do an accounting degree and got accounting jobs first with Dulux Paints and then at a small technology business, which led to a 24-year career with Telecom ending up as chief executive of Spark Mobile. He moved last year to Foodstuffs, which includes Pak'n'Save, New World, Four Square and Liquorland.
He advised young people to study subjects they enjoyed, and then to see every job as an opportunity to build their skills.
"Your career is going to be a squiggly line, not a straight line," he said. "Mine certainly didn't go down any path I thought it might, but I'm pretty satisfied with how it's gone."