All jobs are not equal in the future of work
Not long after the Canterbury earthquakes a group of like-minded individuals from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Chistchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (now Ara), and Hawkins Construction met in a bar (our then office space) and hatched a plan over a basket of wedges and free flowing raspberry and cokes. That plan was rekindling Māori Trades Training – at its heart – a shared vision for our rangatahi to lead the Christchurch rebuild. Nine years on the idea has been replicated across regions with thousands of rangatahi supported into trades pathways, but on reflection have we achieved our original vision… not yet.
The big problem was the funding policy design which only supported entry-level qualifications into the industry. Currently only six out of every 13 Māori who start their apprenticeship complete. Further, without targeted supports, Māori progression into leadership generally happens despite the system not because of it.
Arguably our greatest impact came from cobbling together some iwi funds to support mature and experienced Māori tradies to attain certification through assessment of prior learning. In most cases this resulted in an almost instant increase in pay of $10,000 and closing Māori income gaps (Māori workers earn 20% less during their peak) and that’s a great outcome. It also had a significant impact in reducing Māori unemployment in the region, just not the desired leadership outcome we were after.
Policy decisions in New Zealand often reflect the historic and deeply embedded idea that Māori are “good with our hands”, but the subtext of this is that we fundamentally lack the qualities required to lead.
Addressing this core issue is now more important than ever – why? Our rangatahi are one of the fastest growing demographics in this country and their future success is key to our shared prosperity. (The Māori workforce grew by 50% between 2013 and 2018.)
Following the Canterbury quakes Māori disaster recovery expert Professor Regan Potangaroa, stated, “disasters don’t impact unequal people equally”. That was the case post quakes and it looks set to happen again with 66% of Māori workers being employed in industries negatively impacted by the response to COVID-19. Largely it’s because we have been pigeon-holed into blue-collar careers by the country’s decision-makers through successive generations. We were disproportionately harmed by Rogernomics, we were hit hard by the GFC and now here we are facing the brunt of the COVID-19 recession. COVID aside, if we look to the future, the status quo would see Māori also disproportionately represented in industries that will be most impacted by automation (the future of work) and climate change. The underlying cause is systemic inequity — the inequalities in our education system create inequalities in our economic outcomes — and if we are all to thrive in the future, this approach just isn’t a viable option.
The reality is our future fortunes will not come from sustaining a brown underclass in sectors prone to boom/bust cycles, but will if we commit to supporting whānau into the industries of the future and scaffolding their learning with a view to growing leaders, not just labourers. Done right, the Governments focus on vocational training has a significant role to play in supporting whānau transformation so we see incomes and prospects rise, whilst inequities and poverty fall.
Focus on jobs for the future
The current changes with the Review of Vocational Education (RoVE) provide the opportunity to pivot our tertiary sector towards creating pathways to quality future-focused high value jobs in growth sectors, not just trades – health, high-tech manufacturing and engineering. One example is the growing demand for “high touch” jobs in the health sector – the sort of jobs which can create economic security, decent incomes and a rewarding career. Broadening the focus ensures Māori are future-ready, not just shovel-ready.
Focus on growing Māori Leadership
RoVE also presents the opportunity to build vertical pathways so Māori are supported to upskill and move into leadership roles. Even with the boost, construction is still a boom/bust sector. Moving Māori into higher levels across the board ensures they are employers not just employees and in a much better position to ride the waves of future change with transferable and in-demand skills. Otago University’s outstanding success with growing Māori doctors is a good example of institutions transforming their delivery to deliver better outcomes for Māori.
Focus on transferable skills
Rangatahi can expect to have 17 jobs over five careers. In a much more fluid labour market, life-long learning and transferable skills are key to adapting to change and thriving in the new economy. The recovery presents the opportunity to shift the mindset from qualifications (as a proxy for skills) to transferable skills directly aligned with the demands of industry. As commentators are saying, the future of work is now and the future of work is human. The most in-demand skills in the job market today are uniquely human – teamwork and collaboration. 21C Skills Lab is a good example of how we can build on the strengths of our rangatahi and nurture their collaborative problem-solving skills, creativity and critical thinking.
But it’s not just human, its Māori! Our faster growing rangatahi population will be key to New Zealand’s future prosperity. Failure to think long-term and address the underlying causes of our economic vulnerability – inequity – may see us survive the current harms only to have the same happen again in future economic shocks (e.g. automation, climate change). Inequality is not inevitable, it just requires fresh innovative thinking.
As Ngati Kahungunu leader Ngahiwi Tomoana recently stated, “Our past was built on the backs of our tupuna but our future will be built on the brains of our rangatahi”. As a country let’s nurture a future where we all shine – he waka eke noa – we are stronger together.