By Imran Ali
The impact of Covid-19 has hit the labour market hard, and Northland has the highest number of people on the Jobseeker benefit as a proportion of the working age population.
According to statistics for the September quarter released by the Ministry of Social Development, 11,849 Northlanders were on that benefit — an increase of 2343 on the end of March.
Nearly 7500 are ready to work but the rest have health issues or a disability.
Stats NZ released its unemployment figures that show 6000 Northlanders were without a job and 94,000 were working at the end of September.
The region's unemployment numbers accounted for nearly 4 per cent of the national figure of 151,000 as Covid-19 hit the labour market.
MSD regional commissioner for Northland Eru Lyndon said responding to Covid has been challenging for many in the region and the focus for his employment team would be to keep businesses operating and help people into a range of jobs.
He said MSD was working with iwi, councils and other agencies to place jobseekers into shovel-ready infrastructure projects such as roads and parks.
Over the past four months, he said more than 1500 Northlanders have moved into work and 54.4 per cent were Māori.
"There are post Covid-19 job opportunities and we are working hard to match Northlanders to those opportunities.
"Northland's regional economy is larger and more diverse than it has been historically, and our export-oriented primary industries and hospitality sector have come through Covid-19 quite strongly," Lyndon said.
Over the past two years, he said MSD's dedicated youth engagement programme, He Poutama Taitamariki (HPT) has been supporting 15- to 24-year-olds move into education, employment or training and between July and October, it moved 413 participants into jobs.
Lyndon said MSD's employment team also offered services and programmes for employers and job seekers such as advertising a vacancy, short listing and helping with the interview process on behalf of employers.
Support was also offered to help candidates gain industry-specific skills, or funding to help with short-term pre-employment or in-work training, he said.
Whangārei Anglican Care Centre budget coordinator Dianne Harris said unemployment as a result of failed drug testing in places around Northland contributed to the grim situation.
"Workers have to be tested for drugs all the time and that makes it harder to get a job, even if you're a casual drug user. The other factor is a lower-skilled society."
Harris gave an example of a man in Whangārei who received $250 a week in jobseeker benefit plus $68 in accommodation supplement but came up short by $101 for his weekly expenses.
After the lockdown, she said many families who lived outside Northland moved north to be closer to family and friends.
Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephen Smith believes Covid-19 is just one reason why the number of people on the jobseeker benefit has soared since March.
In general, he said some sectors like manufacturing and construction have not laid off workers and the hospitality sector was doing moderately well.
Tourism was down but the primary sector was doing well, he said.
MSD figures show of the nearly 11,900 people on the jobseeker benefit, 6750 were males and 5093 were females.
Māori represented 62 per cent or 7394 jobseekers and the 25- to 39-year-olds represented the biggest age groups of people on that benefit.