The number of people claiming the unemployment benefit has topped 50,000 - almost three times the 17,710 at the same time last year.

Aucklanders account for almost half of the increase. About 15,000 more are on the dole than in June last year.

White-collar workers are also being increasingly affected and next month the Auckland Chamber of Commerce will start a scheme with Work and Income to help professional workers having trouble finding new jobs but who are reluctant to go to Work and Income.

Employment Minister Paula Bennett said the number of people on the unemployment benefit was manageable - it was similar to the number in January 2006 - but she was concerned at the speed of the rise.

"The concern for us is that it's happening so quickly," she said.

"It is happening over a shorter time than expected, and in higher numbers. We are hoping it plateaus, but it is a sharp incline, especially over the past six weeks."

Labour leader Phil Goff said the increase showed National needed to revise its approach to saving jobs.

Almost one in three of those on the benefit in Auckland is young - aged between 18 and 24 - a much higher figure than the one in five of a year earlier. Mr Goff said other options needed to be found for young workers, such as more training when they left school.

Maori and Pacific Islanders are also struggling, making up almost half of those on the benefit in Auckland.

Ms Bennett said jobs were still available, but many small and medium-sized businesses in particular were struggling because of the recession.

Winter months were traditionally grimmer because the "winter blues" affected consumer spending, pushing retailers to lay off staff.

The minister hoped the country would get some relief over summer. "But I am concerned about early next year."

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce scheme will offer CV and interview training for workers with office skills or in professional roles.

The chamber is also using its business networks to seek vacancies on offer - it advertised a fortnight ago for any jobs and was sent 76 by businesses around Auckland.

Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said the usual avenues for professionals or administrative workers seeking new jobs, such as word of mouth or contacts, had dried up.

Many of those out of work did not realise their skills would transfer well to other positions, he said.

It was also hoped people reluctant to go on the unemployment benefit would feel more comfortable about approaching the Chamber of Commerce, which had access to a wide range of employers.

"There are people who have more skills than you would normally see in an unemployment situation."

Ms Bennett said Work and Income had found many people were waiting until they were desperate and behind in their mortgage payments or rent before asking for help.

'We've got a different type of person coming on to the benefit. They are people who are either more skilled or have been in a job for a long time. They have never been on a benefit before.

"Many have little idea how to get a job because they haven't had to for the past 25 years. It's a different world out there now."

Numbers on the unemployment benefit are forecast to reach 90,000 in 2011 and the unemployment rate - now about 5 per cent - to reach 7.6 per cent in the same year.

The figures are still well below those of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the number out of work was well above 100,000.