Overview and introduction

The country is still experiencing a tight labour market, and productivity is being driven by inflation due to the continued financial impacts of the pandemic and other global economic pressures.

We also note the environmental and economic disruption caused by Cyclone Gabrielle in February, which has had a devastating impact felt by communities (including mental health concerns), industries (slowed economic activity), and the workforce (worker displacement/job losses) in other regions and throughout the Bay albeit to a lesser extent.

Although the last lockdown was in October 2021 (in Auckland), the effects of COVID-19 persist and are still negatively impacting our workforce and industry in the region. On the supply side, one significant issue is the large numbers of rangatahi (especially Māori) losing their education due to absenteeism. In some cases, there have been demands on students to bring income into the home because of sustained pandemic pressures. However, without an education this undermines resilience, foiling a young person’s chance of acquiring the right skills in a learning environment, leading to meaningful participation in the labour market in the long run.

In response, a paradigm shift has been occurring in the Bay, involving secondary schools, tertiary and training providers, employers, and industry, all focused on the learner who is at the centre of a wraparound model, including a skills assessment of capability, allowing for the accurate placement of the individual on the right school-to-employment pathway.

Other long-term challenges that continue to impact training and education are driver licensing and digital access. Gaining a driver’s license can be challenging in the Bay. This is because the area is dotted with rural locations, making it difficult for would-be learners to access driver license testing centres. Regarding digital access, while the Eastern Bay is particularly affected by a lack of infrastructure, parts of the Western Bay and Taupō are also experiencing such challenges. The dearth of connectivity is worrying as it presents an obstacle to participation in the education system and obstructs learning in affected areas. The RSLG has responded to these challenges in collaboration with those investing in digital infrastructure across the Bay area and driver licensing courses as part of Trade Academy offerings, coordinating people into relevant labour market programmes.

On the demand side, some sectors have been disproportionately impacted, with business closures and job losses. Much of the tourism industry was insulated from harm by domestic tourism, although this was not the case for the entire region.

With the border having opened back up, the situation has been improving, especially for those who are dependent on offshore visitors [1]. In the horticulture sector, kiwifruit and apple industries have undergone challenging times. As a result, this has impacted the wider ecosystem of the sector, for example, with the liquidation of PlanTech and a loss of 15 jobs [2]. The RSLG has responded to these demand implications by collaborating with those who invest in initiatives that help employers develop a holistic approach to recruiting, focusing on the skills they need and the strategies they use to retain staff until talent flows resume. For example, the Tauranga CBD Revitalisation project and the Aquaculture industry’s progress in a harbour in Ōpōtiki and its own future skills pipeline.

The new spotlight areas we will zoom in on include the Māori economy and enterprise, school age rangatahi and Immigration.