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Opportunities . . . Workbridge employment consultants Sandra Familton (left) and Dawn Ewing stand by a board full of job vacancies. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Across the country, the unemployment rate is rising – but there are still plenty of job vacancies in the Waitaki district, recruiters say.

“A lot of New Zealand is screaming out ‘we have no jobs’, but [in Waitaki] we have jobs we can’t fill,” Workbridge Oamaru employment consultant Dawn Ewing said.

According to figures from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Covid-19 has already made an impact on unemployment in the Waitaki district.

The number of people claiming the Jobseeker benefit increased 60% over the past year, from 261 in May 2019 to 436 in May this year.

The increase was most noticeable from March to April, when the number of people receiving Jobseeker support jumped from 314 to 413.

Across New Zealand, there were 124,187 people receiving the Jobseeker benefit in May this year – a 69.5% increase from May 2019. However, those figures did not include people who had lost their jobs and were not on the benefit, or those who were underemployed through a reduction of hours.

Unemployment figures in Waitaki could get worse when the wage subsidy runs out on September 1, Mrs Ewing said.

According to MSD modelling, even if New Zealand experiences a moderate economic recovery, unemployment is not predicted to return to pre-Covid levels until after 2024 and the number of people on the Jobseeker subsidy is picked to peak at 317,000 in June next year.

But the Waitaki district’s “rural and urban mix” would definitely help mitigate the overall impact, Mrs Ewing said.

A lot of employers in the district needed seasonal workers and had jobs available right now, and Workbridge was advertising more clerical, cleaning and support worker jobs than it had workers available to fill the roles, she said.

Workbridge works specifically with people who have health or medical issues, but its Oamaru consultants were happy to help anyone and refer them to other services, Mrs Ewing said.

“If someone .. walks through the door, we will at least be able to point them in the right direction.”

Mrs Ewing described Workbridge as a “wrap-around” service – consultants often referred people to other services such as counselling or budget advice, she said.

“It’s keeping our community, as a whole, healthy.”

North Otago Chamber of Commerce chairman Simon Berry said Waitaki’s advantage over other districts was its “agricultural backbone”.

“Agriculture is still strong, [and] probably without some migrant workers they will look to employ locally come the spring,” Mr Berry said.

Tourism and related industries, such as retail and hospitality, would be hit the hardest, but Mr Berry said there was still demand for those services in the domestic market.

There were jobs available in the Waitaki district, Mr Berry said, and people who lost their jobs in the wake of Covid-19 might have to be open-minded about entering other industries.

“That’s part of resilience .. we go where the demand is and where the work is.”