In May this year, Wanganui mayor Annette Main launched "100% Sweet" youth employment to bring local business, government agencies and educators together to help young people become "happy, prosperous members of the local community".

According to Ministry of Social Development figures for the end of September this year, there were 543 people in the 18-to-24 age group receiving unemployment benefits in Wanganui.

Mrs Main spoke with large employers in the region this week about where there are gaps to be filled and what skills are needed.

The mayor said that although it is still early days for 100% Sweet, there are things happening for young people in Wanganui.


"There is also our own Intranz which used to be funded by the council but is now funded by half a dozen employers."

Intranz graduates gain the National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering (Level 2) and 80 per cent of graduates have found work in the industry.

Tania King, principal of Wanganui Girls' College expects that the 100% Sweet scheme will pay off by tracking each school leaver and assisting students who needed help getting into employment or training.

"The school provides leavers with the best possible education and skillset to go into the community but it's their choice as to whether they seek employment, go to a training institution or do nothing," she said.

"In a sense, 100% Sweet can only but succeed because if a student received a phone call saying, 'We'd like to help you get into employment or training, do you want assistance?', they'd be crazy not to take up the offer."

Attracting students back to Wanganui to fill skilled positions after they graduate from university was a matter of having jobs available for graduates to apply for, Mrs King said.

"There are some really strong businesses in Wanganui but, if there's not positions available, graduates have no incentive to return."

Youth unemployment is a national concern and former Otorohanga mayor Dale Williams, who has chaired a nationwide network to address the problem, says local initiatives can make a big difference.


The Mayors Taskforce for Jobs - a nationwide network that Mr Williams previously chaired - works to get young people into education and jobs.

"At the moment there's no shortage of young people in communities and there's no shortage of jobs, but there is a big gap between employers' expectations for entry-level staff and young people's ability to match those expectations.

"Youth employment is probably the greatest opportunity that communities have to really create their own point of difference."

Mr Williams said central government is "too remote" and "too bureaucratic" to solve the problem.

"What works in local communities are creative and flexible initiatives that are owned and driven by local people."