Editorial: Don't blame migrants for jobless youth

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The Salvation Army's social policy analyst, Alan Johnson. Photo / Doug Sherring
The Salvation Army's social policy analyst, Alan Johnson. Photo / Doug Sherring

Young New Zealanders value very highly their right to stay and work in some other countries. It is embedded in our culture as "OE", a term we use a little ironically since bar-tending in Britain or teaching English in Japan seldom bears much comparison to the careers we have in mind when we come home. Young people the world over want to experience other places before they take on life's commitments. Reciprocal working rights are readily agreed by countries wishing demonstrate to closer relations. It would be a pity to see those rights lost.

But the warning from the Salvation Army yesterday, that youth immigration may be depriving young New Zealanders of jobs, cannot by ignored. The Sallies social policy analyst, Alan Johnson, has come to this conclusion by looking at the rise in the number of immigrants aged 15-24 (seven times the number three years ago) and the stubbornly high number of young Kiwis not in jobs, education or training, which has risen slightly since 2014.

Johnson argues that too many work visas have been issued in the year to June in construction (2846), farming (3129), hospitality (8245) and care of the aged and disabled (1005). These are all sectors, he believes, where some of the 51,800 young unemployed and unencumbered Kiwis could be finding work.

Well, maybe. Representatives of employers in three of those sectors told us they were trying to recruit locally without much success. Hospitality NZ's spokeswoman said there was a "massive shortage of chefs" and added, "If we could get Kiwis in those roles, we absolutely would." The Aged Care Association said there were not enough young New Zealanders willing to learn the job. Federated Farmers finds few willing to go to live in rural areas, often remote.

With as many as 74,000 young people unoccupied in a job, education or training, it is remarkable that shortages exist in these industries. If low pay, unpleasant tasks or the need to move to a different part of the country are among the reasons the jobs do not appeal, young visitors obviously do not have the same objections. That is understandable, like Kiwis on their OE the migrants are on temporary permits. They can bear the hardships for a short time. It is different for those who are (or should be) looking for their preferred job.

But that difference also makes local recruits more attractive to employers than temporary workers who will have to be replaced every year, or whatever the term of their permit. It is easy to understand why the chief executives of 10 companies issued a call this week on all New Zealand business to take on an unemployed young Kiwi within the next 50 days. Their project aims to give 500 youngsters a break that could be the beginning of a career.

The Government unexpectedly started to restrict immigration last week, raising the bar on categories such as chefs, where the supply of truly skilled recruits is undoubtedly limited. If polls rather than proper analysis was behind that move, business will be worried. Young migrants are serving some sectors well. New Zealand would be poorer without them.

- NZ Herald

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