Dunedin’s diverse economy gives the city a buffer against the turbulence of the Covid-19 world.
That’s the message from Ministry of Social Development southern regional commissioner Jason Tibble, who is feeling cautiously optimistic about the city’s future.
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MSD figures for January show that Dunedin and the lower South Island have the lowest job seeker benefit numbers in the country, with 3.9% of working-age people in the region receiving job seeker support.
“That is significantly less than the rest of the country, which is a positive sign,” Tibble said.
Also, in the past seven months, 1500 MSD clients in Dunedin had come off benefits and into work — more than in the whole of the previous year, he said.
“That’s a good indication for how the local Dunedin economy is dealing with employment — it bodes well, I believe.
“So, I am cautiously optimistic about Dunedin and Otago’s future, while also being very aware that some sectors and whanau are being severely affected,” he said.
The region reflected both sides of the economic coin.
“Dunedin has a number of strings to its economic bow, so the question is how do we leverage those diverse sectors.”
Queenstown was more heavily invested in fewer sectors, particularly tourism and horticulture, and would therefore require a very different strategic plan, he said.
Nationally, unemployment rates fell in the three months to the end of December, down to 4.9% from 5.3% in the previous quarter.
While overall employment was up, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was felt more keenly by tourism-related industries, as opposed to the booming construction sector.
The same was true for Dunedin and the wider Southern region, where job opportunities were predominantly in manufacturing, accommodation, food, agriculture, healthcare, the social sector, and the construction industry.
People coming on to benefits had a range of skills, including food service, construction, agriculture and retail.
“This speaks to Dunedin’s diversity and to the fact that the skills of job seekers are matching the opportunities quite well,” Tibble said.
At the Otago Pop-up Job Shop in November, there had been 400 registrations, mostly from students, to take up fruit picking opportunities in Central Otago over December and January.
The much-anticipated construction boom around large infrastructure projects such as the Dunedin Hospital rebuild, central city and tertiary precinct upgrades, waterfront transformation, cycleways, and more, would bring $3.3billion in projects and the need for hundreds of workers.
“The challenge is going to be understanding how many workers, and the mix of workers that will be needed,” Tibble said.
Launched in December, Workforce Central Dunedin was working to address the challenge of finding the required workforce by connecting the community to the project and providing a conduit for people to be involved.
The Grow Dunedin Partnership had also been established to help implement Dunedin’s Economic Development Strategy.
“MSD are keen to help with these projects wherever we can,” Tibble said.
As part of this, MSD had established four new employment liaison adviser roles in Dunedin, to provide a “one stop shop” for people looking for advice, both job seekers and employers.
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