Jobs! What are they good for?

Your brighter future, New Zealand:

A Wellington employment training centre has had its Government contract abruptly pulled because it did not focus on placing people in the hospitality, aged care and call centre sectors.

More details at Stuff.

The closure of the Bowerman School is a real puzzle. It helped many people not just find any jobs, but good jobs – relevant jobs, fulfilling jobs, jobs which could lead to a career they enjoyed.

Bowerman said her students had ranged from people who had never worked, to architects and two doctors who came through the course last year.

The difference between her course and others in the region was that Bowerman would do “whatever they actually needed”, in terms of jobseeking support.

“Whether that was getting them first aid certificates, or haircuts or clothing. Just whatever was required.”

Bowerman said most of their students were also in the older age bracket.

“First, it’s so bloody hard, especially if you’re over 50 these days, to get a job. But they’re unable to go into hospo, they’re not going to go into call centres, and aged care facilities actually want trained nurses now.”

It also makes no sense in light of the rave reviews it was getting from the agency which funded it:

So what’s going on? Why the narrow focus on “hospitality, aged care and call centres”? It makes no sense!

Actually, it makes all kinds of sense. Because this government has shown, time and time again, that it doesn’t care about good jobs or careers or skills, only forcing people off benefits so the current Minister of Social Development can crow success.

This government shut down night classes, sneering about Moroccan cooking. They sneered at the Training Incentive Allowance, which gave single parents (like my mum) the ability to get a degree. They sneered at anyone over 40 who needed support to retrain or upskill through tertiary education.

So of course you can’t have a jobs centre which supports people to flourish as talented innovative creators. That would ruin everything.

This can sound as conspiratorial as you like, but the logic is pretty simple: an uneducated, desperate minimum-wage workforce is easier to exploit. People who don’t have a lot of qualifications have more difficulty changing jobs. People who are paid at near-minimum wage after 20 years on the job don’t have the luxury of sitting back and pondering the big questions of democratic governance. And people whose only other option is being bullied and micro-managed for a pittance by WINZ aren’t going to complain too much when their breaks get taken off them or their holiday pay is short.

And it’s far easier for the kinds of people who give the National Party lots of money to leech short-term profits off a service-based economy. Why build anything real when you can just put 19-year-olds through a meatgrinder of youth rates and rolling 90-day trials?

The thing is, everyone does better when wages are good, when broad-based education is available to everyone, and when skilled jobs and a solid manufacturing base are what generates the economy – not a bunch of wealthy people flipping each other properties while the rest of us make their coffee and drive their Ubers.

But building the foundations for that kind of economy takes time, and resources, and a view more long-term than next quarter’s balance sheet.

It requires the ability to understand why the state exists in the first place, and knowing that the most important thing in the world is people, not profit.

When you don’t believe that, well. Shutting down a successful jobs centre is just the logical thing to do.


Three free years

With apologies to the Greens – that’s no policy costings unit, it’s a space station.

The four State of the Nation addresses held last week make an interesting analogy for their respective parties’ goals in 2016.

The Greens are going to demand respect as mature political actors and build themselves as credible, thoughtful and full of integrity.

John Key, whose SOTN kind of vanished without a trace last Wednesday, is carrying on the business-as-usual nothing-to-see-here approach.

Winston Peters held his SOTN in Orewa and I haven’t heard anything about it, probably because my ears don’t pick up the frequency of his dogwhistle.

Labour is … doing things differently.

Three years’ free post-school education for school leavers and people who haven’t accessed tertiary education is a pretty tremendous announcement. It wedges the door open for the next generation of students who won’t be saddled with as-horrific levels of debt before they even get to start their “real” careers.

And yeah, I say that as someone who still has years of loan-and-living-costs repayments ahead of me.

snape not mad

Education is too valuable to reduce to an individual’s job chances. It’s about far more than training people to be accountants and lawyers, even if the Minister responsible for it thinks so.

Education is a public good. We all benefit from lifting up each other’s knowledge and skills and abilities to think and adapt to different situations.

And from the reaction I’ve seen, most people get that. They understand that the 25-year social experiment with “user-pays” education is a total failure. They get that there is an alternative.

But let’s look at it in terms of the direction Labour is signalling for 2016 and heading into Election 2017. Make no mistake: free tertiary education is a leftward step. And it’s about time.

Even in the latter days of the Clark government, Young Labour types would argue that making it easier for students to go into personal, up-front debt to pay for their degree counted as “making tertiary education affordable”. That was the safe approach, which technically opened up opportunities for young people in education but accepted the fundamentally rightwing idea that education was an individual pursuit and that individuals should bear the financial burden, personally and up-front.

This policy is free tertiary education. There are conditions: it’s time-bound – for now. It doesn’t apply to people like me who have already got degrees – for now. It’s dependent on passing half your papers each year.

Still: it is free. Tertiary. Education. And that’s a lot more than I would have predicted, to be honest.

I have nits to pick – I’m a leftwing political blogger, after all – but this is a solid first move after a year of stocktaking and self-reflection by the party. It’s a pity that it will be overshadowed a little by the continued TPPA shenanigans, but if Labour builds on this across its portfolios – social development, healthcare, justice – it has the beginnings of a bold, compelling set of ideas to take into the 2017 election.

Labour in 2016 is not afraid to look to the left, change the conversation, and dare National to follow their lead.

It’s exactly what they’ve needed. Long may it continue.