The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in Dunedin is ramping up its efforts to support people who have suffered job losses due to the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
As part of the Government’s response to the severe economic shock caused by the pandemic, MSD Minister Carmel Sepuloni recently announced a “resource boost” for MSD so it could “act quickly and proactively” to help workers displaced by the virus.
The package includes 35 new employment centres across the country (one of them in Dunedin), online recruitment to connect job seekers to employers, fast-tracking benefits, and “quick upskilling” solutions.
MSD Southern regional commissioner Jason Tibble said Dunedin had experienced a 35% increase in work-ready job seekers, from 2053 in March to 2713 in April.
“Many of these people are skilled workers, who have been in employment until recently, when they were displaced by Covid-19,” Mr Tibble said.
Tourism in Otago made up 16% of the region’s GDP, which meant that there was a sudden rise in people coming on to job seeker benefits, which had flattened out as the Government’s wage subsidy came into effect.
It was likely that there would be another rise in job seekers when the subsidy came to an end, and MSD would need to respond accordingly.
“A lot of these folk who were recently in work, have skills, and are reasonably warm to the labour market, may not require in-depth support.
“It might be a CV update and brushing up on interview techniques for example.”
This “light touch” response required a different type of thinking to that before Covid-19, when there was a different mix of people.
Mr Tibble said the impact of the virus, and the resulting lockdown, had “brought the future of work forward”, with businesses able to operate successfully in the online environment more able to retain staff and attract new staff.
“Some of our key partners are telling us that, while they expect there to be redundancies in the short-term, when the supply chain is back up and running, they believe employers will begin hiring again,” he said.
In Dunedin, the sectors which had been most directly impacted were accommodation and food services, retail, trade, and construction.
“Hopefully construction can line up with shovel-ready projects, and the hospital build, which should help,” he said.
Also, the fact that Dunedin’s was the most diversified economy in Otago, across the health and social sectors, education and training and retail and construction, offered cause for optimism.
“Being such a diversified economy, we have a lot of levers that we can lean on,” Mr Tibble said.
MSD Southern was well connected to the local labour market, and had placed more than 6000 people into work in the past 12 months.
“So some of the work within the employment focus will range from people who only need a light touch, to be directed to the right places to connect with businesses, through to us placing people into training,” he said.
Recently MSD Southern had worked with Otago Polytechnic and the Otago Chamber of Commerce to do a stocktake of the city.
“I’m getting the sense that stakeholders are coming together to brainstorm solutions.”
‘‘And I think job creation will be very important for us as a community — there are opportunities here, we just need to work together.
Under Alert Levels 4 and 3, MSD staff had interacted with people remotely, responding swiftly.
Moving to Level 2 allowed face-to-face interactions to occur, although the other channels, which had been ‘‘working pretty well’’ would remain.
These included MyMSD, the 0800-559-009 phone number, with the addition of carefully managed face-to-face appointments.