This Generation - Outcomes, Not Activities

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs

West Plaza Hotel



Good morning and thank you the invitation to speak to you today.

You have heard from a number of people this week with expertise in the areas of education and employment.

On Tuesday Tau Henare took you on a guided tour of the coalition ship. He emphasised that, for Maori, education is the key to improvement. He told you about the improvements and developments that have occurred and those yet to be addressed. He described his frustration that we have not yet achieved parity for all. But come to think of it, when is Tau not frustrated? And often with good reason.

Your very competent conference organisers asked me to provide you with an insight into how I, as Minister of Youth Affairs, am helping to navigate young New Zealanders through the changes leading us to the new millennium.

As a Government we are setting down a new strategy for employment. That is one of the changes that I want to talk to you about today. As Minister of Youth Affairs I am constantly promoting the concept of youth development, and that will be the main focus of my speech this morning. My aim is to put clear pegs in the ground so that young people themselves are able to successfully navigate the route to adulthood in a safe and enterprising New Zealand.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you about these things. Can I say at the outset that I am no education or employment expert - you are the experts. But I hope to provide you with a slightly different perspective on youth issues.

The message in my video is a powerful one - that this generation is gonna walk with their heads held high. It's a message we need to hear more of. We all get frustrated by the negative portrayal of youth in the media. Certainly young people get sick of seeing and hearing the negative news all the time.

It is my belief that what we expect from youth is what we will get. So it is the responsibility of all of us to lift our sights. We should always expect the best of, and for, young people.

The Government's employment strategy is about changing some of the age-old attitudes about unemployment.

Peter McCardle has made it clear that outcomes, not activities, are the focus of the strategy. The focus is on reducing long term unemployment. There are four main elements to his work.

The first is the integration of the four different services that deal with the needs of job seekers into a one-stop-employment-shop. The aim of this is to deliver seamless assistance to job seekers. I am supportive of this concept because I have seen the excellent results achieved by a similar one-stop-shop providing health care and advice for youth.

Secondly, the new strategy will see the opportunity for a more flexible and targeted approach to the way resources are allocated. It is important that they address the specific needs of job seekers. If a particular type of intervention proves successful, then there will be much greater flexibility to move additional resources into delivering the things that work.

The third element of the strategy involves the regionalisation of employment resources. The resources available to achieve the Government's employment outcomes will move from central control to regional control. New Zealand is made up of many different labour markets, with varying needs and characteristics. It makes sense for the mix of services required to be determined within the community and labour market in which those job seekers live.

The fourth, and most radical change to employment policy is the replacement of the Unemployment Benefit with a Community Wage and Training Allowance.

The rationale for that change involves shifting attitudes. I know there is potential in this because I have seen it work with the youth development programmes sponsored by the Ministry of Youth Affairs.

The package adds up to a lot of change. I consider it to be my job to work with the Minister of Employment so that he considers the needs of youth and very importantly that young people understand the changes for themselves.

Youth Development

It can be very difficult to find a job and especially if you have no work experience. That will probably never change.

For some young people the prospect of finding the job they want is distant. And sadly, you can literally graph the decline in people's efforts to seek work, to the point where after 20 or 30 rejections they simply stop looking.

Constant rejection, coupled with numerous social distractions and a lack of family, community or peer support, is asking for trouble. We're at real risk of creating a youth at risk.

This is where youth development comes in.

In my view, the most important thing we can do as a Government is support youth development.

That means considering every young person as a whole young person. It means that as well as considering their education needs, we need to acknowledge that physical health, housing, spirituality, relationship skills and self-esteem all contribute to success in the labour force.

An excellent example of this approach is the New Zealand Conservation Corps and Youth Service Corps which are run by my Ministry.

You only need to look around you to see how successful programmes such as these are. The trouble is, the way that their success is measured isn't always easy enough for a Treasury analyst to understand!

Over 60% of Conservation Corps participants have no formal qualifications, nearly 30% have reading or writing difficulties, about 20% have behavioural problems, approximately 25% have drug or alcohol problems and roughly 20% are involved with the justice system.

The participants are a disparate group with some significant signs of difficulty. In spite of that, on average, Conservation Corps boasts a whacking 80% of participants entering employment, education or training within six months of completing the course. That makes it one of the most successful Government training programmes.

However, some people think that the Ministry of Youth Affairs administering this programme is untidy. I disagree. The Ministry of Youth Affairs is in a unique position because when it comes to Government departments it is one of the few that can work with the whole of a young person's life. The Ministry's work programme is based around the themes of family, working, well-being, learning and citizenship.

Working in that way has made Conservation and Youth Service Corps the success they are today.

There are some other characteristics that I would like to mention.

Firstly, the programmes challenge. They challenge life's limits - mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.

Secondly, youth development helps a young person to respect themselves. It is important that our young people respect others by not doing things like stealing or tagging. However, if they have no self respect, then what chance do we have of really improving their life options?

We are not born with self respect. We need to be taught it, we need to learn how important it is to respect who we are, our body and what we stand for. Sure, things like parenting skills, budgeting and social skills are important, but we need to first of all teach young people that they are of value. Young New Zealanders need to be shown that they are intelligent, that they can participate and that they have a right to be on this planet. No more, and no less, than anybody else.

I have seen the dramatic impact that this can have on youth. I have seen quiet, tired, reticent people at the start of a Conservation Corps programme. When I have met them again at the end of the 20 weeks I have been blown away by the dramatic change.

The change wasn't just that their reading skills had improved or that they knew how to fill in an application form for a job. The change was much deeper, it's something you can't quantify for a spreadsheet.

Young people in our communities

Another major contribution to how young people develop is the way that we as a society typecast them.

Some new research by a Porirua youthworker has shown this to be true. The research was funded by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Crime Prevention Unit.

This work has shown that being typecast as 'bad' is the greatest barrier to achievement. Again, the issue of expectations.

The study defines 'at risk' students as young people whose connections with school, family, peers or ethnic or geographic communities have broken down.

A consequence of such breakdown can be a loss of support and clear direction on the way to adulthood. If that happens youth are likely to be enticed by other options such as gangs and crime.

As a nation we have an obligation to ensure that young people's connections to their family, school, peers and community are strong and lasting. Certainly, the recently released code of family and social responsibility has sparked debate around some of these issues.

Interestingly, the most important thing that the students in the Porirua study identified was the need to be heard. The need to be heard by an adult who understands 'their world'.

Students preferred to relate to someone who understood what it was like for them and who was prepared to treat them as something other than a 'bad student' or a child.

The study recommended that we need people, like youthworkers, to act as links to the adult world. And it also requires respect and a special rapport. That involves a lot of listening and understanding. I think that far too often we let children and young people down by failing them in this regard. It is for this reason that Youth Affairs is currently working to improve youth work training.

A young woman at last year's Youth Parliament summed it up.

She is a young solo mum and asked the Youth Parliament not to consider solo mums as a burden. She asked the Youth MPs for help and consideration with the important job of raising children. She recognised that solo mums sometimes need a bit of a helping hand, and asked that others recognise that too.

She concluded her speech to Parliament by saying, "To keep our children happy, first we must learn to be happy. To teach our children knowledge and wisdom, first we must learn to be knowledgable and wise. To fill our children with encouragement, we also need encouragement, and to assist our children in life, we also need assistance."

No truer words could be said.

The best practical example of this is He Huarahi Tamariki - the school for teenage mums run by Susan Baragwanath. Susan and the women in the school are a real inspiration.

So, on the issues of respecting and valuing youth, challenging and developing them, and hearing what they have to say, what is my role as Minister of Youth Affairs?

In addition to the Corps programmes, the Ministry of Youth Affairs provides policy advice to Government. They also work to include youth in everything they do through student reps, youth councils, youth parliament and focus groups.

Being a small population based Ministry (like the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Pacific Island Affairs) presents many challenges.

There is an abundance of issues we could potentially work on but for practical reasons we constantly have to determine the priorities and head for those.

This year we are looking at youth suicide prevention, sexual and reproductive health, tertiary education, employment, young men, and the development of a New Zealand youth policy.

All of these pieces of work focus on the services and support Government and communities can provide for youth.

I envisage the New Zealand youth policy as a blueprint for communication between Government and youth, beyond the year 2000. The again, I'll have to wait to see how youth perceive the policy.

There will be significant input from young people to make sure we get it right.

In my view there are very few decision makers who know what it is like in the real world of the real teenagers. Therefore, the keys to successful navigation are:

allowing youth to be heard, to participate, to feel valued and to develop in every aspect of their lives.

You and I have a role to play in this.