Proportion of unemployed rise as well
Almost 7000 more people are working in Northland now compared with three years ago, according to the latest employment statistics.
Statistics New Zealand figures showed 72,700 employed people in the region, up from 65,800 in March 2013.
However, there were still 59,300 people unemployed or not looking for work - an increase of 8600 in the past four years.
Otangarei born and bred Kodey Wells is one of the lucky ones who has recently landed a job.
Kodey did not complete secondary education and, after a year on a benefit, he joined a cadetship run by People Potential on behalf of the Northland Regional Council and the Whangarei District Council.
The cadetship is focused on preparing jobseekers for employment and entails things such as mock interviews.
While doing the cadetship, he applied for and secured a job as a receptionist at People Potential before moving to its subsidiary, Youth Service, as a youth coach.
"It took me a year trying to find a job but I had no luck so I thought the cadetship would be a great opportunity to find work. Lack of jobs in Whangarei is the biggest barrier for jobseekers," the 22-year-old said.
Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tony Collins said employment rates would always be a concern, but there were positive aspects to the statistics.
"Some of the positives are we still have a growing population, so that's a really strong signal for growth," he said.
"We have been improving but obviously when you [look at figures] on a comparable scale it's still not great and we need to work harder."
Northland's labour force participation rate - the percentage of the population 15 years or older working or actively looking for work - was 60.1 per cent in the March quarter, the lowest in the country. The next lowest participation rate was Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough and the West Coast, with 67.1 per cent.
Mr Collins said a critical step to improving employment rates was to upskill youth who weren't training or working. He said employers had expressed difficulty finding applicants with the required skills and abilities for jobs. Combined with the structure of many Northland businesses, Mr Collins said it was difficult for young people to find employment.
"If you look at the profile of Northland businesses, 95 per cent of them are going to be owner-operators, sole traders, or businesses employing less than five people. They may only employ one person every four or five years, so the risk for them getting it wrong is very large," he said.
"For young people to get those skills that are going to reduce that risk for the employer is very difficult."
A Ministry of Education initiative, Youth Guarantee, hoped to lower youth unemployment by providing free tertiary education and trades training to eligible 16 to 19-year-olds around the country. More than 1000 Northland students were training under the initiative.
Spokesman Phil Giles said many Youth Guarantee students needed education in more than just their chosen areas to help them succeed.
"We have a strong focus on goal-setting, CV writing and meeting employer expectations in terms of life skills like appearance, punctuality, budgeting and healthy habits."
Students "frequently" gained employment while studying under the initiative.
Mr Collins said the upcoming retirement of large numbers of baby boomers would leave a gap in the workforce.
"It's going to be an issue in about 10 years' time, finding young people of a working age. It's not just Northland, it's going to be the whole country, and the world. These young people will be an asset and we'll be competing nationally and internationally to retain them."