An Auckland mother has come up with a way to free up workers to help solve the mammoth problem of New Zealand’s growing labour shortage.
Mela Lush was on maternity leave and part of mother and baby coffee groups, when she noticed employers and other mothers she knew were saying the same thing.
Organisations were unable to secure enough staff, while young mothers were unable to find flexible work to fit around their parental responsibilities.
This spurred Lush, 34, to spend time during her maternity leave a year ago building a job search website that lists jobs offering flexibility and family-friendly work practices for mothers who would otherwise have opted not to work.
Jobs For Mums is still in its infancy, launching two months ago with the site still undergoing work and its back-end processes yet to be refined.
So far, it has 25 jobs listed from a handful of large companies including Zuru, Oceania Healthcare and Madison Recruitment, advertising a wide range of roles including swimming instructor, salespeople, kitchen hands and finance roles.
Lush, who lives in Whangaparāoa, tested the Jobs For Mums concept by posting on social media and received 1500 messages in return - many of them asking why a site of its kind had not been created before now.
"When I had children I realised how difficult it was for mums," Lush told the Herald.
"It is trying to solve a really big problem which is there are currently too few people to fill jobs; but I am trying also to combat the issues of gender pay gap and the systemic disadvantages that affect women when you become a mum."
Lush says Jobs For Mums addresses the critical need for more workers amid the ongoing staffing crisis - a problem she believes will continue for the next five years.
She says she hopes her platform will encourage women to get back into the workforce and support mums in their careers.
So far about 1000 mothers have registered on the platform, and it has already helped 15 women to secure jobs in the past two months. It has received interest from 200 employers.
Lush says about a third of all women who go on maternity leave do not return to work after the period is up.
As of 2014, about 60 per cent of all women aged between 25 and 49 were a parent to at least one dependent child in the same household, according to Stats NZ.
Lush has done the maths - she says 57 per cent of women in this age bracket are not currently in the workforce, with about 15 per cent of those unemployed. That meant there was a candidate pool of about 855,000 Kiwis who could be working.
Lush is one of the thousands of women who quit their jobs at the end of their maternity leave. She spent more than six years working in leadership, most recently for the Institute of Management New Zealand, and is now dedicating her time to growing Jobs For Mums.
The site, similar to Seek or Trade Me Jobs, calls itself an ethical recruiter, only listing jobs that align with its desire to champion corporate social responsibility, aiming to eliminate bias, close the gender pay gap and end what it calls the "motherhood penalty".
"It's not just unemployment we fix, it's also underemployment," says Lush. "Up until Jobs for Mums, many mums were taking on roles because they were 'flexible'. My goal with Jobs for Mums is to also help mums reach their full potential in their profession and smash the motherhood penalty."
"There's talk of the Great Resignation. Well [the current workplace] just is not working for people, and that's because it is not set up to work, especially for families because they are the largest group of people who are exiting.
"The 40-hour work week, that was designed 80 years ago, back when someone was working and someone was at home looking after the children. Fast forward to today, you have got such high interest rates - people have to work - it is a costly society we now live in and both parents have to work, but it is not set up that way," says Lush.
"We're working to unlock a hidden demographic. A lot of our mums don't use LinkedIn, they don't use Seek. The biggest thing we overcome is the imposter syndrome; I have mums say to me, 'I feel comfortable applying for this position because I know it meets my needs and they know I need flexibility'. It's really important, and that's how we unlock a huge percentage of mums that have university degrees but aren't in the workforce."
Lush is encouraging businesses of all sizes to take a look at their internal policies and make some changes to ensure they are flexible and offering a modern workplace.
"All businesses have a way of being family-friendly."
Jobs For Mums is the winner of a marketing grant from Grow NZ and also a finalist in the Westpac Business Awards - Excellence in Community Contribution.