BusinessNZ Submission to the Welfare Working Group Reducing Long-term Benefit Dependency: The Options

Extract from BusinessNZ Submission to the Welfare Working Group Reducing Long-term Benefit Dependency: The Options



How information technology can help to alleviate some social welfare problems.

1. What changes could New Zealand make to the structure of the benefit system to improve the focus on early intervention to reduce long-term dependency?
Access to a computer is an important resource for seeking employment and reducing social dislocation. This can enable search agents to more easily liaise with beneficiaries, and also enable them to gain skills via on-line training while still seeking employment. A computer in the home means there is no physical barrier to upskilling or training, which is sometimes constrained today by transport challenges or issues arising from the need to mange family commitments. For families unable to afford a home telephone, it provides an important communications device and the ability to remain in contact via VOIP services like Skype, email or instant messaging.

2. What changes could New Zealand make to the structure of the benefit system to improve the focus on paid work?
Before the expiry of the six-month period after which an unemployed person would be required to work in and available job, all efforts should be made to ensure the person gains IT skills and where possible can access a computer directly at home. This could be done via a programme such as Computers in Homes that utilizes recycled computers to provide entry level digital literacy. It is also possible to provide training away from home via programmes like Computer Clubhouse. 

These existing programmes would require some additional funding in order to provide services to beneficiaries. This could be achieved by a reallocation of existing programmes capable of funding their expansion to deal with the unemployed. Both these programmes referred to have a significant footprint in disadvantaged communities, along with a number of other programmes that are capable of delivering digital literacy.

3. What changes do we need to the Unemployment Benefit to improve social and economic outcomes?
Computers in homes is a proven programme for improving employment outcomes for disadvantaged communities.

4. What changes do we need to reduce long-term benefit dependency of sole parents and reduce child poverty?
In the absence of adequate child care, broadband access can facilitate employment for sole parents without having to leave the family home. There are numerous examples of administrative and support roles that can be undertaken from home, in some cases not requiring traditional working hours, thereby enabling flexibility with managing children. 

IT skills are virtually mandatory for employment in the 21stcentury and enable employment in a range of occupations including administrative support, account payable and receivable, customer support, translation services, data entry and web development. They also assist with social cohesion and enable sole parents to effectively communicate with employment agencies, news sites, government agencies, and also engage in commercial activities via TradeMe and other e-commerce sites. It can also enable home businesses utilising web-sites for customer interaction therefore making IT skills available to sole parents is going to be one of the most game changing initiatives for this group. There are a range of programmes that could be expanded to cater for this group including Computers in Homes and Computer Clubhouse. The benefit of a computer in the house will also flow through to the children and their education performance, and future employability

5. What changes do we need to reduce long-term benefit dependency of people on the Sickness Benefit and the Invalid’s Benefit?
Ensuring long-term beneficiaries have IT skills and access to a computer and reduce social dislocation, enable them to work from home, and also more actively seek work through job boards and other sites.

6. What changes do we need to reduce long-term benefit dependency among Maori?
Getting computers into Maori beneficiary households is proven to have the ability to step change educational outcomes. Utilisation of these computers by young Maori (and Pacific Island children) not only improves there own educational performance, but it also improves digital literacy for other whanau members

7. What changes do we need to reduce long-term benefit dependency of people who enter the benefit system at an early age?
Young people typically already have an aptitude for engaging with technology through their use of mobile phones, game consoles, and in some cases, computers. Capitalising on this interest by engaging them in more structured literacy training creates immediate employment opportunities.

8. What changes do we need to financial incentives in the benefit system (including supplementary programmes) in order to reduce long-term benefit dependency and increase the uptake of paid work?
The Government has clearly signaled its goal of developing the ICT and HTech sector, To achieve this New Zealand needs a single minded focus that no-one capable of working, whether they are able bodied or disabled, shouldbe without IT skills which are essential not only for 21st century employment, but essential for social cohesion. 

Given the government’s commitment to investing in the Ultra Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband initiatives, and digital literacy programmes like Computers in Homes and Computer Clubhouse, it makes sense to tie these together with a comprehensive digital literacy programme for beneficiaries. 

New Zealand has had an annual shortage of skilled workers for the IT and HiTech sector of between 2000 and 3000 workers annually, which has been only partially addressed by immigration.

Business NZ and its affiliate NZICT Group support the view that it is possible to exponentially grow the ICT and Hi-Tech sectors, in line with the Government’s Research,
Science and Technology investment, broadband investment and introduction of new technology skills and education programmes. This could create up to 10,000 vacancies for skilled workers per annum. Not all of these roles require advanced technical skills, and there is a commitment from companies in the sector to engage in internship and work experience programmes.

Therefore Business NZ and NZICT Group are proposing the formation of a HiTech Jobs Partnership, bringing together business, central government, local government and NGO stakeholders to create a clearinghouse for potentialworkers, either those with existing skills or those that could gain entry level positions through basic training or internship activity. This will integrate with programmes like the Youth Guarantee, Gateway and Star for school leavers, and a focused programme for long term unemployed should also be developed with existing NGOs like Computers in Homes and Computer Clubhouse.

There are already existing examples of young people from disadvantaged communities who with basic animation skills gained in Computer Clubhouses are able to gain employment in entry level digital content or animation roles with companies. A clearing house will ensure all vacancies are clearly documented and advertised, and that available entry level qualification training is identified for the unemployed to consider undertaking. 

Separately NZICT Group are forming a Hi-Tech Skills Working Group with the University of Canterbury to model the long-term skills requirements of the industry, and make recommendations around programmes and funding options to support education and training initiatives.

9. What changes do we need to improve the approach to funding and delivery of employment and other services?
The opportunity exists for broadband to enable people to work for much longer, by enabling them to work flexibly from home, either full-time or parttime

13. What are the key components of a successful package of reform to reduce long term benefit dependence?
As well as producing school leavers who are literate and numerate, the school system should also produce leavers who are digitally literate, taking advantage of the new technology subject area being implemented for years 11-13. Ensure that programmes like the Youth Guarantee, Trade Academies, Gateway and Star schemes. The specific focus of the Hi-Tech Skills Working Group on addressing youth unemployment should be replicated across labour market plans for all sectors