Sunday, 6 July 2014

Dale Williams and the NZ Mayor Taskforce for Jobs

Dale Williams: Youth in Otorohanga
Dale Williams has been a force for positive change in the 10,500 population district of Otorohanga. As he says so engagingly in his 2013 TED talk, the former Otorohanga Mayor asked himself in 2004 how "can we have a group of employees over here, truly believing there's no potential staff for them; and over here a group of young people truly believing there's no employment opportunities?"

A darn good question. What sets Dale Williams apart was that he did something about it; or rather, he empowered the community around him to do something about it.

Dale didn't go to Uni, though his brother did, instead completed a trade, as a mechanic. He specialised in motorcycles and became a business owner as a motorcycle repairer and dealer. He's a practical man, and as Mayor, when he realised there was a problem in his town, he didn't think why; he thought what. What to do about it. He thought who. Who should be involved. But perhaps best of all, he thought when. The when was right now.

Dale's focus was very practical. He focused on getting young people in his district into work. He and his team brokered placements. They put in place Whanau Ora pastoral care to make sure that young people with little self-esteem and often criminal records made good choices. They helped them through relationship breakups, poor financial choices, stood bail and mentored. A totally hands-on approach.

The saying 'it takes a village to raise a child' was truly taken to heart in Otorohanga, and as a result, youth crime rates fell, young folk got work so they stayed local, and spent their earnings from their jobs in town. The project had a payoff for the community. Stuart (2013) cites Dale as saying “There has got to be something in this for everybody – it’s not just a social thing, where you help a few wayward kids, then you go home and feel good about it. It’s got to mean something to your business; it’s got to mean something to your bottom line.”

The pastoral care - mentoring - arm to the programme is a key plank to their strategy. Otorohanga's local apprentice completion rate is 96%, compared to a national average of 35%. Dale says "Ray does whatever it takes to keep them on their course. They might ring him and say my girlfriend is gone, my car is broken, whatever - and he sorts it." (Ministry of Social Development, 2010)

Another key plank is the 'MPowa' programme, where a paid administrator gets in touch every fortnight with school leavers until the young people are are in work, in training, or back in the education sector.

The third key plank is the employers. They have been extensively consulted in what they consider is a work-ready employee, including funding and working with the local trainers. They have had input into training programmes and take on the graduates.

And lastly, Otorohanga celebrates the successes of the young people themselves. Getting an apprenticeship is worth celebrating, as is passing apprenticeship courses, and becoming a journeyperson on completion of their time, becoming a tradesperson on completion of their qualifying exams. The whole town lets their young people know how proud they are.

The result is zero unemployment below age 25 since 2006. As time goes on, and the project builds, that zero unemployment is likely to encompass more and more of the community. Generational unemployment in Otorohanga will hopefully disappear.

We can all learn from Dale Williams. And we can all learn from Otorohanga. And that is what the rest of the country is hoping for, with the Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs. That other towns around New Zealand can take what Dale did, and apply it locally.



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