Labour leader Andrew Little says a proposal to give unemployed young people six months of full-time community work at the minimum wage will not be compulsory but there will be an expectation they take part - and possible sanctions if they don't.

Little released the policy at the party's annual conference in Auckland, where the focus is on jobs.

Expected to cost $60 million a year, it will provide unemployed people under the age of 24 with "jobs" in the community and environment, such as pest control work or riparian planting with the Department of Conservation, local councils or charities such as City Missions and food banks.

Dubbed "Ready for Work" it will be for those who have been on the dole for at least six months - but will pay the minimum wage of $15.25 an hour rather than the dole.

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Little said those on the dole for more than six months would be expected to take part. There were already sanctions in place to use on those who refused, but he hoped that would not be needed.

"The sanctions are a punitive approach to try and get the desired outcome. Those sanctions are there, we don't want to take those away but the approach is to avoid that if at all possible.

Some young people occasionally do need a kick up the backside to get them out the door."

He hoped mentors appointed to each worker would be able to provide that, "not the punitive sanctions".

"We'll be saying 'if you've been out of work for longer than six months' then you're going to have to go and pick up one of these roles.''

Labour has criticised National for its use of sanctions such as cutting benefits of people who do not meet their job-hunting responsibilities or turn down a job.

Exemptions could be given to those with a genuine reason not to take part, such as if they were a caregiver to another person.

Mentors would be appointed to look after about 25 young people each, making sure they turned up at work.

Employment Minister Steven Joyce said the policy was a "make work scheme" and missed the mark.

"The problem is not finding enough work for young people, it's finding enough young people and skilling them up for the work that is already there.

It makes no sense to have a make-work scheme competing with Kiwi businesses for young talent when the biggest concern of employers around the country right now is finding enough young people to fill the jobs available."

Little said the cost would be recouped in savings to the Government over the longer term by improving the employment prospects of the young people.

It would also help Government departments such as DOC which had work such as track maintenance, planting and pest control to do.

"They will be carrying out important environmental and community work. Right now the Department of Conservation is struggling to meet its goals in the face of funding and staff cuts. Councils and others are also crying out for help."

Little said there were still too many young people not in jobs, and the scheme would help boost their confidence.

It is in addition to Labour's policy to subsidise apprentices by paying employers for the apprentices they take on and a policy for three years of free tertiary education.

Little said 74,000 young people were not in work or training and there were now more than 10,000 unemployed people aged under 24 than a decade ago and Labour believed all young New Zealanders should be in work or training.