Grant Robertson: Unemployment at 11-year low shows an economy working for all


One of the signs of a strong economy is that more people are in jobs and earning higher wages. This means that our businesses are growing and becoming more productive and that the economy is working for more and more New Zealanders.

Our Government believes that everyone who wants to work should be able to. Before we came into Government we set a target of getting the unemployment rate down below 4% within our first three years in office.

That’s why it was great to see earlier this month that unemployment has fallen to 3.9%, with 92,000 more people in work under the Coalition Government. That means more New Zealanders who want to work, are in work, supporting themselves and their families.

To put this into context, the unemployment rate rose to 6.7% and didn’t fall below 4.7% between 2009 and 2017 under the previous Government, even when some were dubbing us a ‘rockstar’ economy.

We knew that getting unemployment below 4% required a mix of policies which would support businesses to grow and create jobs. It also required a fresh approach to helping New Zealanders get the skills they need to take on these jobs, especially our young people.

We can’t get complacent about the unemployment numbers, particularly given the growing volatility in the international economy with situations like Brexit and the US-China trade war.

That’s why we’re making investments in New Zealand to make sure our economy stays strong and keeps delivering for all New Zealanders. Part of that is our record investment in transport infrastructure like roads and rail, increased construction work for classrooms, hospital buildings (including a whole new Dunedin hospital) and other large Government projects around the country.

Another part of our plan is helping businesses find the skilled workers they need to keep growing. When we came into Government we could see that this required fresh thinking to help businesses with the cost of taking on new staff and training them up.

This week the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Employment Minister Willie Jackson announced that the Government is expanding our apprenticeship scheme for young Kiwis – Mana in Mahi/Strength in Work – to up to 2000 places. This follows a successful pilot that we ran last year.

Businesses tell us that sometimes the first year taking on a new apprentice can be tough – in terms of the time and cost – and that this was keeping them from doing so. So we looked at how we could provide support for taking on an apprentice.

That’s how we came up with Mana in Mahi. The Government pays the equivalent of the unemployment benefit to a business taking on a new apprentice, to help them with wage and training costs. The business owner then tops up the pay to the minimum wage.

The results are already changing peoples’ lives. One young man the Prime Minister met in Edgecumbe this week spoke about how his apprenticeship and job was giving him more purpose, and had helped his mental health.

Through our policies like Mana in Mahi, we’re working with businesses to give our young people a greater chance to start a career and lead fulfilling lives. And that means we have an economy that is working for all New Zealanders.