Workforce resilience and climate change

Ka mārō te kakī o te kawau
The shag stretches forth its neck
(focus and determination)

Sunset at Hokianga harbour

"The end goal of the traditional Māori economy was to achieve a higher standard of living, oranga (wellness), undertaken in [...] respect for the interdependent relationship between tāngata (people) and whenua (land)."

Over a 1000-year occupation period, Taitokerau Māori had established a trade-based domestic economy that maintained a harmonious relationship between tāngata and whenua, through focusing on the achievement of oranga. However, within a period of less than 200 years post-colonisation, Taitokerau Māori experienced the systematic depletion of vast amounts of valuable natural resources, including the collective land base, critical to the maintenance and growth of the Māori economy. The Regional Skills Leadership Group has taken the view to return to the desired state of oranga generated through a symbiotic inter-relationship between tāngata and whenua.

Per Mātauranga Māori values outlined during our mahi, and as per our principles of Kaitiakitanga - Protecting our Taonga (Lands, Forests, Fisheries, and all other taonga, material and non-material, tangible and intangible) - over the years, it has been emphasised by our Regional Skills Leadership Group the necessity to channel that change into the creation of stronger labour markets, complete with safeguards that are sufficient to ensure workforce and climate change resilience for Taitokerau. Our group will be focusing on shifting demographics and changing job roles. We will leverage the disruption from COVID-19 to ensure Taitokerau genuinely serves everyone’s needs while looking to the future to improve productivity, whānau enablement, and mitigating workforce-related climate change impacts. We have also taken into account our Mātauranga Māori principle of Ōritetanga – ensuring equity of treatment in every aspect, equity in how we live and equity in access to all services.The world of work is changing fast –which is why ensuring recovery from COVID-19 related workforce impacts and resilience due to economic disruptions is one of the 3 workforce development objectives for the Taitokerau Regional Workforce Plan 2022.

For Taitokerau this means increasing opportunities to grow a more resilient, sustainable, and productive workforce now and into the future that is able to manage disruptions such as COVID-19 through partnerships with Hapū Māori and industry. As part of developing a more sustainable workforce, we must respond to climate change and develop green skills for our workforce. This means that we must develop a robust understanding of workforce impacts due to climate change and how we may transition our economy to a green economy equipped with green skills, while addressing the threat of climate change.

"The mantra to ‘think global, act local’ empowers climate action at the local level. We strongly believe that the Taitokerau region can be an empowering environment for taitamariki entering the labour market to create mahi that supports climate action and community wellbeing."

— Edward Miller - Researcher and Policy Analyst, First Union

Achieving a managed and just transition for workers, particularly those currently employed in the industries that drive climate change, requires an active mix of social protection policies, training and retraining incentives, public and private sector investments in infrastructure and environmental services, and an approach that values climate action and decent work as much as it does economic returns.

A climate-jobs agenda represents solutions to some of Taitokerau’s existing labour market problems. The regional employment figures display a high dependency rate (there are a lot of people aged below 15 and above 65) and relatively low employment. The jobs missing in the region are in the value-add sectors like manufacturing and construction, a trend heightened by the closure of Marsden Point refinery which made up half of the region’s manufacturing GDP.

"Are we supporting continued resilience of the people and environment – together we need to move to a regenerative approach which encompasses broader green skills broader than gas emissions. Regenerating Taiao will enable biodiversity, increase water quality and help reduce flooding [sic]."

— Bernadette Aperahama, Team Leader, Strategic Planning and Urban Design, Whangārei District Council

Labour market insights for workforce resilience

In terms of employment and education, Māori, youth and wāhine were affected disproportionately by COVID-19. These segments of the population were unable to access productive work and/or education opportunities due to economic challenges. Māori comprise 36% of the Taitokerau population and it is essential that whānau, hapū and iwi are enabled to work together for a skilled and productive workforce with equitable outcomes.

COVID-19 has brought on new challenges to the region’s labour market, more so for young people aged 15-24 years, with the rate of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) increasing to 15.8%. This is 5.1% higher than the New Zealand average and is an increase of 22.2% pre COVID-19. The region’s NEET rate is the second highest in New Zealand, behind Southland Murihiku.

Northland Region economic profile(external link) — Infometrics

Māori are overrepresented in Job Seeker Support statistics - in June 2021, the annual average unemployment rate for Māori in Northland was 9.1% compared to 3.3% for European/Pakeha. During 2016-20, the number of Māori receiving the Work Ready benefit increased by 723 (22%), accounting for around 90% of the increase. Over the past year the number of Māori receiving this benefit has increased by a further 912 (23%), accounting for 66% of the increase.

Women’s employment has been impacted adversely by COVID-19. The percentage increase in Work Ready recipients by gender in 2020-21 was 25% for males and 26% for females. In absolute terms, the number of females increased far more (40%) than males.

What are the labour market gaps for workforce resilience?

  • Providing full-time and sustainable employment in the region will allow everyone to participate in a fully inclusinve abour market. Through focus on training and reskilling, we have an opportunity to future-proof workers and industries alike, increasing their resilience and full-time participation for the longer term. However, the Taitokerau labour market is tight, and the labour force underutilisation for Taitokerau is one of the lowest in the country at 9.2%. The solution if to encourage students and workers to develop their skills and reimagine how training is delivered.
  • Decent work in the Taitokerau region is required so everyone can participate fully and equitably in their places of work, community, industry and society in line with Taitokerau Northland Economic Action Plan 2019, a Māori Economic Growth Strategy, He Tangata, He Wehnua, He Oranga (developed by Taitokerau Iwi Chief Executive Consortium, Ta Kahu o Taonui) and Te Hiku Joint Work Programme, Te Mahere Whai Mahi Māori/Māori Employment Plan. All want to see work that is sustainable, secure, fairly paid, and meaningful and motivating.

Taitokerau Northland Economic Action Plan [PDF 2.3MB](external link)

Te Hiku-Crown Joint Work Programme(external link) — Te Hiku iwi website

Overall actions for workforce resilience

The Mātauranga Māori high level outcomes agreed by the Group are focused to create a conducive workforce environment that reinforces Māori prosperity and wellness in Taitokerau. Based on this, the group has developed the following actions for workforce resilience.

  1. Support workforce recommendations from Te Mahere Whai Mahi Māori/Māori Employment Action Plan including:
  2. Providing support to build resilience for Māori businesses.
  3. Supporting organisations working with businesses who encourage and grow their Māori workforce, especially wāhine and taitamariki.

Te Mahere Whai Mahi Māori Māori Employment Action Plan [PDF, 4 MB](external link)

  1. Actively support increased collaboration and partnerships between Community and Industry for developing a resilient workforce, through:
  2. Actively supporting community-led initiatives and the organisations that support them to awhi community capability and develop a whānau workforce.
  3. Work with organisations that support business growth e.g. Te Hiku Joint Work Programme, Te Mahere Whai Mahi Māori/Māori Employment Action Plan, Chamber of Commerce, and Northland Inc under the business mentor programme, to support entrepreneurship workforce development.
Two kids doing experiments on the rocks at the beach

Labour market insights for climate change

The scale of change required to achieve a green economy and meet ambitious climate change targets means we need to think about sustainable skills in all jobs and all sectors.

Green Jobs and Skills(external link) — OECD

Green skills will be a catalyst for jobs and skill transformations, which are vital for building the next generation of green talent and provide Taitokerau’s future labour market with a clean, green future. It is now more important than ever to develop a robust understanding of impacts on workforce caused by climate change policies and how to support the transition towards green skills based on pae tata (the collective efforts of many) and pae tawhiti (towards a desired future).

Looking at the spread of talent around the region and within the core and backbone sectors through the lens of green skills, we can see clearly that the demand for green talent is growing. Key sectors that will be relevant for Taitokerau for the climate change transitions include transport, industry energy and waste, building and construction, agriculture and forestry.

For an equitable transition to climate change, it will be important to support skills development for quality lowemissions employment, and as demand for existing skills decline, we must also give workers access to training and support into new roles. Specifically, we will look to enabling Māori in Taitokerau to drive the skills transitions towards climate change as per the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019. This could involve upskilling workers to move them from high polluting industries to ‘green’ jobs within a low carbon economy. In construction adapting to innovation will be central to the sector and will also drive the need for focused upskilling. In the energy sector, with falling employment levels in refining, there is an opportunity to retrain these workers in the renewable energy industry.

Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019(external link) —

Key sectors that will be relevant for Taitokerau for the climate change transitions include transport, industry energy and waste, building and construction, agriculture and forestry.

Currently regional growth relies on the extraction of resources, manufacturing, consumption, and generation of waste but the biosphere cannot regenerate or absorb the activity and jobs that rely heavily on a healthy and stable environment which is at risk in Taitokerau. With the values of Kaitiakitanga - Protecting our Taonga - we need to shift talent towards green skills, through a targeted sector approach, towards greener jobs, using skills to identify jobs with the highest ability to turn sectors green.

What are the labour market gaps for climate change?

Supporting transitioning and upskilling to meet emerging green jobs will require a significant understanding of the impacts of the Net Zero Carbon amendment to the Climate Change Response Act in 2019 or industry, individuals, and wider society to upskill and reskill. Some jobs will require specific upskilling or retraining to move to sustainable, green jobs while all jobs will require higher levels of environmental awareness as well as adjustments to reduce emissions, recycle waste materials, and sustainably source products.

As the region seeks to better understand the skills that are key to making the transition to a green economy that advances decent work, skills development programmes for enterprises and workers to facilitate the transition to a green economy will be important.

Overall action plan

  • Champion green skills and prepare the workforce for the green and equitable transition owing to climate change impacts of the Zero Carbon amendment to the Climate Change Response Act in 2019 through skills assessments, Emissions Reduction Plan, and National Adaptation Plan.
  • Undertake a comprehensive sector by sector analysis through the lens of green skills, to determine the potential green skills required by industry based on demand for green talent which will in turn be based on national policy commitments for the region, i.e. the proposed Renewable Energy Zone pilot as an opportunity for Taitokerau to transition to increased green energy generation. 
    Renewable Energy Zones(external link) — Transpower
  • Support the Māori workforce to identify the critical green skills required initially in the primary sector (forestry) that align with their kaupapa and whenua values, to enable a regenerative, sustainable and circular economy model.
  • Develop a targeted approach to progressively focus on green upskilling and reskilling communities with a devolved energy generation approach (solar energy related skills). While also capitalising on investments made in Ngāwhā Innovation and Enterprise Park.
  • Support existing workforce from exiting industries, with cross council collaboration, to transition to more sustainable future industries such as green hydrogen, solar, wind and water, energy waves and potentially bio-fuels, e.g. Refining NZ.


Green skills: skills that enable the environmental sustainability of economic activities.

Green jobs: jobs that cannot be performed without the pre-possession of green skills.

Green and equitable transition: the process of evolution towards a green economy to support the goals of the Paris Agreement, to deliver net-zero emissions in order to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees. This includes structural transformation across all sectors and meeting the commitments outlined in the Zero Carbon amendment to the Climate Change Response Act in 2019 in NZ.

Green sectors: In the Taitokerau region the sectors as per inhouse analysis that will be foremost for the Green and equitable transition to meet our national commitments to the Net Zero Carbon amendment to the Climate Change Response Act in 2019 are Primary Industry – Agriculture and Horticulture, Construction, Transport and Manufacturing.

With the values of Kaitiakitanga – Protecting our Taonga – we need to shift talent towards green skills.

Key candidates for climate change transitions in Taitokerau

Agriculture, Fishing, Forestry

Carbon emission: 53%

Employment: 11%

GDP: 10%

69% male

28% Māori

22% no qualifications

Workers live in Kaipara (40%), Whangarei (33%), Far North (27%)


Carbon emission: 39%

Employment: 10%

GDP: 15%

77% male

31% Māori

18% no qualifications

Workers live in Kaipara (15%), Whangarei (59%), Far North (26%)