Opportunities and Challenges facing Youth Employment in NZ and the U.S.

Jeffery Wallace, U.S. CEO of LeadersUp and U.S. Embassy Youth Council. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Department of State.

By Mara Hosoda U.S. Consulate General staff.

Views from the Field: Opportunities and Challenges facing Youth Employment in New Zealand and the U.S. 

Jobs and employment are critical to the successful growth and development of every economy.  But what happens when there is a gap at the start of the employment stage?  When youth and businesses struggle to connect?  When youth can’t find, or aren’t aware, of opportunities that are out there?

New Zealand and the United States share similar opportunities for youth employment – strong economies, a thriving innovation sector, internship programs and diverse employment opportunities.  But both face similar challenges with ensuring that these opportunities are utilized.  The U.S. Consulate General in Auckland was fortunate enough to host Jeffery Wallace, U.S. CEO of LeadersUp, for a workshop session with the U.S. Embassy Youth Council and alumni of various United States exchange programs. Jeffery was in Auckland as the keynote speaker for the Future Ready Summit for business leaders and employers to create opportunities that advance youth employment.

With U.S. government exchange program alumni representing the business community, secondary school teachers, at-risk-youth social workers and tertiary education specialists, and Youth Council, a broad and diverse range of opinions was provided from across the generational divide – from the challenges encountered by youth, to problems employers face in finding and recruiting the right talent, to hurdles relating to curriculum development. 

U.S. Exchange Alumni Bernadine Vester, Sarah Longbottom, Mike Hearn and Roydon Agent discussing youth employment challenges with the U.S. Embassy Youth Council. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Department of State.
U.S. Exchange Alumni Bernadine Vester, Sarah Longbottom, Mike Hearn and Roydon Agent discussing youth employment challenges with the U.S. Embassy Youth Council. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Department of State.

Jeffery’s goal is simple – he drives LeadersUp to fulfill its mission to create employer-led solutions for the national youth unemployment and opportunity-divide challenge for the benefit of both businesses and communities.  With his insights from experience working in the U.S. system, and local knowledge from his recent work in New Zealand, Jeffery facilitated a fascinating and thought-provoking conversation, with the participants highlighting a number of opportunities and challenges:

Challenges:

  • Many youth lack exposure to role models who look like them and are successful – Isabelle Walker, U.S.-NZ Youth Council member.
  • Youth can sometimes find it hard to understand how their qualifications relate to industry or jobs—Daryn Govender, U.S.-NZ Youth Council member.
  • There are significant challenges for minority youth to find work in environments that often don’t recognize or appreciate specific cultural differences and perspectives – Conor Mercer, U.S.-NZ Youth Council member.

Opportunities:

    • Organizations like LeadersUp are working to inform private sector industries on the ways in which they can adjust their employment systems to make them more accessible to vulnerable youth – Isabelle Walker, U.S.-NZ Youth Council member.
    • Stronger collaboration between post-secondary training institutes (such as Universities or Industry Training Organizations) and industry to create work-ready graduates to meet skills shortages faced by firms—Daryn Govender, U.S.-NZ Youth Council member.
    • My particular interest is how secondary schools are responding to this particular issue. One of the very positive initiatives being taken at the high school I teach at is providing work experience opportunities that are linked to what they study in school. In other words student study is more relevant to the world in which they will live, work and play. This approach is a response to the culturally diverse and lower socio-economic community in which our school sits. To achieve this our school recognizes that some of the traditional models of education are now an anachronism  and in needed of radical overhaul – Roydon Agent, Senior History Teacher, Alfriston College.
    • I learned that there is capacity, and interest, for businesses focused on attracting youth into meaningful and rewarding work in New Zealand – Conor Mercer, U.S.-NZ Youth Council member.
    • I believe that education is not ‘the more you learn the more you earn’… I reckon the more you learn the greater your understanding of the world is, the greater you can grasp a macro view of why things are as they are, and the greater contribution you can make to the betterment of the world AND find employment or create your own – Sarah Longbottom, Executive Director, Ngā Rangatahi Toa.