Māori unemployment at historic low – First job in 10 years for one, first medical professional in whānau for another


Every day is different for Isaac Te Rito. Photo / Mead Norton

For the first time in a decade, Isaac Te Rito is working full-time, and says he has his ”mana” back.

The 57-year-old – who works in Te Puke for DMS as a kiwifruit and avocado orchard management post-harvest operator – reaches into his pocket for his wallet.

Look, I have $20 and tomorrow is payday. I have money in the bank, my cupboards are full, the freezer is stacked and my power bill is up to date.”

Before, he was living day-to-day, but now he has something to wake up for.

He taps his chest and says, ”I feel proud coming to work, as it gives me a sense of responsibility.

”Now I’m setting goals, and I have never really had any plans in the past. I’ve got my mana back.”

Isaac Te Rito says earlier this year he spent some of his time working in the kiwifruit packhouse at DMS.  Photo / Mead Norton
Isaac Te Rito says earlier this year he spent some of his time working in the kiwifruit packhouse at DMS. Photo / Mead Norton

Te Rito said every day was different since he started as a member of the orchard team in October. He thrives on the variety of work and the supportive environment.

This included pruning and trimming, bud-counting, vine-training, fruit-thinning, and stints in the packhouse during the main harvest where he also got to fill in on the forklift.

He had picked kiwifruit in the past seasonally, but said his life has changed since he started as a full-time employee.

”I am so grateful, and I am happy, and I can’t complain. Life is pretty good.”

Te Rito, who identifies as Māori, said being at DMS was like ”working at the nine nations, we have so many different cultures here – it’s very diverse, and I’ve made some good mates.”

“We even go fishing on our days off.”

Te Rito was just one success story, as labor market data shows the Māori unemployment rate is at the lowest it has been since modern records began in 1986.

Stats NZ’s latest data shows the unemployment rate (unadjusted) for Māori was 5.5 per cent in the June 2022 quarter. That was down from 7.8 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Another success story is Mahanawai Daniela, who was on track to become the first medical professional in her family, and was already inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.

Mahanawai Daniela is on track to becoming the first medical professional in her family.  Photo / Supplied
Mahanawai Daniela is on track to becoming the first medical professional in her family. Photo / Supplied

The 21-year-old was in her second year of the Bachelor of Nursing at Toi Ohomai, and was one of the recipients of the inaugural Whakapumau Pae Tawhiti – Retention Scholarships.

Daniela is of Cook Island and Māori descent, and hopes to inspire others to get into nursing, so they can help those in their communities.

“My mum is in social work, but we don’t have any doctors or nurses in our family. My cousins ​​see me working towards my degree, and they now want to be nurses.”

Daniela, a former Rotorua Girls’ High School student, was working at Rotorua Hospital as a receptionist in the Children’s Ward when she was inspired to pursue nursing.

”That’s what pushed me – I wanted to do so much more. I knew I needed to get my nursing degree to help, and everyone at the hospital was really supportive.”

She was still working at the reception in the Children’s Ward, and was the third receptionist who had gone into nursing.

At the moment, Daniela’s heart is with the tamariki, but she also loves acute nursing.

”So in the future, I could see myself in the Emergency Department, or the Intensive Care Unit.”

She was also a firm advocate for those others to take up opportunities in the health sector.

“More Māori and Pacific Island nurses and doctors are needed, as our people are over-represented in every health issue.”

Toi Ohomai’s executive director of partnerships for Māori success, Huia Haeata, said the success of Māori students does not only benefit themselves, but their whānau and their communities too.

She said that typically when the unemployment level is low, enrolments in tertiary education also fall away, which is what Toi Ohomai has seen.

“When there is a strong job market, we often see a drop in enrollments, as people are choosing to earn, rather than learn. With the introduction of Te Pūkenga, we are hoping to offer more on-the-job training, providing greater flexibility and more opportunities for people to combine both.”

Typically, popular courses for our Māori ākonga include te reo, nursing, automotive, forestry and business.

“We believe in education at any stage of life – whether ākonga are coming to us straight after high school or later in life, education is empowering, and we are working with industry so that our students get the skills that employers need. They can leave here and enter the workforce with great knowledge and experience behind them.

“We are seeing high enrollments in the 25-34 age group, but this is not a new occurrence. Most people will have several career changes throughout their lifetime, and we recognize the value of lifelong learning, with students able to continue to gain valuable new skills and knowledge to their chain at any stage.”

Figures from Toi Ohomai show that in 2020 there were 3261 Māori students, compared to 3626 last year, and 2826 so far this year.

Waikato University Te Ihorangi Māori deputy vice-chancellor, Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai, said Māori leaders were playing a significant role in shaping the nation, and more will be called upon to support the shaping of the generations yet to come.

”University study gives our future leaders the opportunity to further develop and refine their skills, expand and strengthen their knowledge base, and build relationships for the future.”

According to its data last year, 2281 students at Waikato University identified as Māori, compared to 2039 the year before. So far this year, 2159 students had identified as Māori.

Anecdotally, there are examples of mature students returning specifically to learn te reo Māori, she said.

”Equally mature students are often returning to re-train, pivoting away from careers they previously had. Some of this is due to engagement with whānau, hapu and iwi kaupapa, which requires different sets of skills than they may have had previously.”

Ngai Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley.  Photo / Mead Norton
Ngai Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley. Photo / Mead Norton

Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said it is a “really good space” at the moment, in terms of Māori employment rates.

“It’s very pleasing, but there’s a level of caution,” he said. “The downside is, our people are still struggling.”

A high-inflation rate environment, overlaid with low wages, means people are calling out for support, he said.

“We know the low unemployment rate is good, but it is insufficient to keep a lot of families going.”

Stanley said Ngāi Te Rangi’s focus since April 2020 had been on micro-credentialing, which gives people better access to higher-paying jobs.

“At this moment, there is a lot of employment within our community – and it is great to have that – but it is not high-quality paying employment.”

Stanley said micro-credentialing helped people to upskill; for example, moving people from a learner’s license to a restricted and then a full driver’s licence, to eventually a heavy vehicle or truck and trailer licence.

“All of the big jobs for our unemployed market are in the logistics industry, and there is a lack of truck drivers with heavy truck licenses – also forklift licenses. We have been running forklift courses for the last 18 months.”

Stanley said the mana Te Rito felt was given to him by the people.

“Mana is not just given. For him to say he has got mana, it has been bestowed on him by everyone else around him, and that is so powerful.

“Now he believes through the eyes of those around him that he is successful.”

Ministry for Social Development Bay of Plenty acting regional commissioner Karen Hocking said the Ministry was ”thrilled” the Māori unemployment rate had fallen.

Its Job Seeker Regional Council data reveals that in May 2022 there were 6,309 on the aforementioned benefit in the Bay of Plenty that identified as Māori, compared to 6,753 in September 2021. Nationally, over the same timeframes, it was 43,848, compared to 48,879.

She said it is committed to improving equity for Māori, as outlined in its Māori Strategy and Action Plan – Te Pae Tata.

The vision for the plan is to make sure that: ”Whānau are strong, safe and prosperous – active within their community, living with a clear sense of identity and cultural integrity, with control of their destiny.”

”The Ministry is partnering with Māori to promote employment opportunities, through programs like the Māori Trades and Training Fund”, Hocking said.

”The Māori Trades and Training Fund supports Māori entities by funding initiatives developed by Māori, for Māori, to deliver paid, employment-focused training and pathways to employment.”

MSD, its partners and their success stories

MSD partners with Rotorua’s WERA Aotearoa Charitable Trust, which offers whānau the chance to participate in a work-confidence wānanga. The wānanga aims to increase readingess for work through training and education.

More than 80 per cent of the whānau WERA work with are Māori. WERA have successfully placed 40 per cent of those into sustainable employment.

MSD recently completed an Industry Partnership with Kaitiaki Adventures Rotorua.

Four Work and Income clients completed one week of training with the company. Of the four, three were Maori. They participated in 30 hours per week of Project in the Community work, and 10 hours employment training pw, over four weeks.

Of the four clients, two have commenced full-time work as tour guides, and one has gone into an administration role with Kaitiaki Adventures.

The other client has moved into full-time employment with a different adventure tourism operator.

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