News : Wellington Job Centre Forced to Close
Wellington, New Zealand, June 30, 2016 -- 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.
The Newtown-based Bowerman School is seeking a review after it was forced to close last week - a day after the Ministry of Social Development informed chief executive Sue Bowerman its contract would not be renewed.
In two separate letters, the Ministry told Bowerman her programme had "no evidence of extensive links with employers" and was "not industry specific".
It praised the company as having "good relationship management" practices, but said a different provider had been chosen and was "judged to provide greater value for money, due to more relevant experience and evidence demonstrated".
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The Bowerman School has been helping "down-on-their-luck" Wellingtonians find employment for more than 30 years, with a "remarkable success rate" by the ministry's own admission in 2011.
One of those was 34-year-old Kate Spencer who found herself alone on the unemployment benefit at 18, and a single mother by 22.
She began with the school learning screen printing, and now runs her own business Moonlight Kingdom Linen Atelier creating high-end duvet covers, with her studio in the Bowerman building.
While studying through Bowerman, Spencer has since run her fashion designs in shows in New York and held a number of her own art exhibitions.
"Without Sue that wouldn't have been able to happen. Just off her own bat, she'd pay for the postage for it to get to New York."
Now she was looking for a new studio, but the tragedy was in the current students left still looking for work, Spencer said.
"People would just walk in, so unconfident, and walk out with their heads held high."
Another former trainee, Sarah Henderson graduated university with a post-graduate diploma in public health and struggled find work earlier this year.
Her Winz case manager referred her to Bowerman, and through the programme Henderson gained a job as a research assistant on a major research project at Otago University's Department of Public Health.
"Winz do not offer that kind of service. While they do have employment there, and I would often go through their listings, they weren't about what skills you had to offer, it was just treating you like you should already have a job."
Bowerman started the Bowerman School of Design in the 1980s, taking unemployed people referred by Work and Income (Winz).
In 2011, Bowerman included an intensive 13-week Winz jobseeking course, which focused on job interview, CV and ICT skills. The design side eventually folded in 2014, to focus solely on employment training.
While the roll was small - about 100 students a year, with a waiting list - Bowerman said those people would struggle.
"What they (MSD) have done, is rather than cater across the board, they've decided their focus is going to be on hospitality, aged care and call centres.
"Which is fine, but there's a whole lot of people who will just miss out - that's what I'm worried about."
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."
Labour's social development spokeswoman Carmel Sepuloni said she visited the Bowerman School about six weeks ago. Its closure was concerning.
"The fact is beneficiaries, people looking for work, have much broader aspirations than just hospitality, the care sector and call centre.
"It doesn't sound very aspirational if we are only going to have Winz channelling people looking for work into those types of jobs."
The Wellington region had an unemployment rate of 6 per cent - slightly higher than the national average of 5.7 per cent.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was overseas, but visited the Bowerman School on March 10.
Acting Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew said: "the minister visits a range of providers around the country".
"Decisions around contracts are operational and are not made by Ministers."
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Social Development said Winz was refocusing to get "better results for people who find it hardest to get work".
"Each region is focused on responding to industries with future employment growth and these differ from region to region.
"For example in Wellington the focus is on contact centre & administration, hospitality, retail, tourism, aged care and health service sectors."
She said the Ministry was unable to comment on the Bowerman School contract, because it had sought a review.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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