New Zealand

Education key to boosting job prospects for disadvantaged New Zealand youth, says OECD


20/02/2008 - New Zealand should encourage young people to stay in school past the age of 16 in order to boost their chances of finding a job, according to a new OECD report.

Jobs for Youth: New Zealand notes that the youth labour market is stronger than in many other OECD countries. Youth unemployment was less than 10% in 2006, below the OECD average of nearly 15%. The employment rate among 15-24 year-olds was nearly 60% in 2006, well above the OECD average of 43%, and only 3% of unemployed youth were unemployed for more than a year, compared to the OECD average of 20% (see Table A).

But some groups of young people are more at risk of unemployment and social exclusion. Among them are most of the 11% of youth aged 15-24 who are not in employment, education or training. This share is close to the OECD average but some groups are doing much worse than others: Maori and Pasifika youth are more than twice as likely not to be in employment, education or training as Pakeha youth (those of European descent).

The report says that too many young people leave school too early in New Zealand. Only 80% of young people still go to school six months after their 16th birthday, compared to an OECD average of 89%. Retention rates in schools also vary widely across ethnic groups, with only 60% of Maori youth still in school six months after their 16th birthday compared with 83% of their Pakeha counterparts.

The government has recently stepped up efforts to encourage youth to stay longer at school, particularly through increased investment in vocational training and in work-based learning. An overhaul of the tertiary education system has been launched so that students leave with skills better adapted to today's job market. Services to mobilize 15-17s not in employment, education or training were launched in 2004 in cooperation with local communities.

To accompany such policies, the OECD recommends additional measures be put in place to create a more comprehensive strategy. The government should:

  • Encourage attendance in early childhood education and care and provide additional support throughout compulsory schooling, especially among Maori and Pasifika children and in rural communities.
  • Abolish early-leaving exemptions that currently allow some youth to leave school at 15.
  • Consider raising the school-leaving age, possibly with a focus on retention until a qualification is obtained rather than on staying until a given age. This would require secondary education to cater for a broader age range and include, for example, more vocational and apprentice courses.
  • Expand the Modern Apprenticeship programme to include more professions and encourage employers to take on more apprentices. This could be done by increasing financial incentives for employers by lowering overhead costs and a lower minimum training wage.
  • Consider introducing residential programmes to help the hardest to place young people. These should involve remedial education and work experience with adult mentoring.

Jobs for Youth: New Zealand is the latest in a series of OECD reports on youth employment policies which now covers sixteen countries.  Journalists can obtain a copy from the OECD's Media Division (tel: + 331 45124 9700).

For further information, journalists are invited to contact Glenda Quintini (tel. 33 1 45 24 91 94) of the OECD's Employment Analysis and Policy Division.

Further information is available at


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