New Zealand’s economic recovery since the Global Financial Crisis has been applauded across the nation and by our own Government in the past decade. But not everyone has benefited, especially in our country’s largest city with deepening inequality between the rich and poor.
In the final part of a three-part report, Carmen Parahi and Simon Shepherd discover there is a warning about slowing growth for our largest city and real concern it will put even more pressure on those who are already struggling.
Some people think South Auckland is not a safe place but that’s not the reality. It’s a vibrant, creative, rich community in culture and creativity
The Wharewaka whānau are proud to live in Ōtara but they know it’s hard for young people in their community to prosper and succeed.
The Wharewaka whānau are proud to live in Ōtara but they know it’s hard for young people in their community to prosper and succeed.
Timoti Wharewaka is a humble young man.
The 21-year-old lives with his mum, dad and sister in South Auckland.
His proud mother, Waimarie, has clear advice about Timoti’s career aspirations. “Just remember where you came from and just to be humble.”
Timoti is passionate about technology. He has a tech job title - Application Support Associate - and works at a tech company - Accenture. And yet, as a child he was not immersed in technology in his home, at school or the community he lives in.
Based on the environment we were in and the people around us those career pathways aren’t really first choice.
His burgeoning career shouldn’t be a big deal but it is.
Timoti and his whānau live in the South Auckland suburb of Ōtara. The ATEED and Infometrics Prosperity Index scored the household prosperity in the Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board just 0.7 out of 10. The household income in the area is $60,800 - $15,700 less than the Auckland average.
Timoti’s father Delmun has diabetes, and his mum is on an a basic, community health worker wage. Timoti attended a decile one school.
But he was always personally ambitious to do more. His family did all they could to support his dreams. They’re all very aware of the negative income, education, crime and health statistics against Māori and Pasifika children growing up in South Auckland.
His father Delmun says, “He has pursued technology because that is what he is passionate about. When he sets his goals he just follows that through.”
“Oh we are very proud, very proud of his journey so far because we know he has so much more to give.”
Timoti finished high school and went on to study at AUT in Auckland. The 2015 Māori ICT report estimated under 1 per cent of Māori enrolled in tertiary education were studying for ICT qualifications.
He completed a postgraduate certificate in Computer and Information Science last year. While he was studying on a First Foundation Scholarship, he worked at Spicers, where he learnt about all aspects of running a business.
He was part of the Tupu Toa initiative to get more Māori and Pasifika youth into corporations by offering them paid internships and early career support.
“I would say I was a rare breed in that case. But I knew for me it was something I really wanted to do.”
Tamati and his whānau want his experience to be normalised for other young people in South Auckland but know the odds are stacked against them.
Just over 370,000 or 1 in 4 Aucklanders live in the five southern local boards identified as having low prosperity; Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Manurewa, Maungakiekie-Tāmaki, Ōtara-Papatoetoe and Papakura. The population size is similar to Christchurch.
In 2017, nearly 57,000 children attended the 140 decile 1 or 2 schools in Auckland. Many of them are in South Auckland. Low-decile schools are rated on the socio-economic status of the surrounding community and receive more funding than schools with higher deciles.
But where there is poverty, schools are not only having to teach, they’re also dealing with kids who are trying to cope with significant issues in their homes, among their peers and communities.
We’ve got to grapple with these complex challenges and we’ve got to ensure South Aucklanders get a better life and better opportunities. It’s not just for South Aucklanders; it’s important to New Zealand.
‘ONLY THE HOOD CAN CHANGE THE HOOD’
The Auckland Council rebooted The Southern Initiative (TSI) in 2015 - a go-to community and innovation centre to operate in four of the South Auckland local boards.
Director Gael Surgenor has 25 staff but is only funded $1.8m per year by the Auckland Council. Most of it’s spent on staff wages. TSI also receives $1m in central government funding. It operates a Māori and Pasifika Trades Training programme helping locals into the trades industry as Auckland Council invests in large scale infrastructure development.
Surgenor admits TSI doesn’t have enough resources to make a big impact but they do what they can. “If it was just a matter of funding more programmes and more services I think we would’ve seen more positive change than what we’re seeing.”
She says the Prosperity Index validated what they already knew - some areas of Auckland need help to lift prosperity.
“Auckland is in a period of high growth, property prices, economic growth but it’s not benefiting all of Auckland and this really shows who’s missing out.”
South Auckland families are living in some of the poorest housing with the lowest incomes. We should all care about everyone getting a fair go. If we’re all to do well then we can’t leave people behind.
Locals have told TSI staff they’re over being seen as a problem to be fixed. They want to be able to find their own solutions, Surgenor paraphrases a term she hears often: “Only the hood can change the hood”.
“The welfare approach hasn’t worked. If it was just welfare we probably would not have some of the intractable problems we have. So it is through opportunity and doing more with what we’ve already got.”
Father-of-three Rory Pai (pictured) has a dream to build his own family home. Pai grew up in South Auckland and is working towards a carpentry qualification on the Trades Training course. He overhauled his lifestyle and was recently employed with Citycare, where he hopes to start an apprenticeship.
I used to smoke weed on a daily basis, drink every day. When I had my son and then applied for the job here, I just gave it all up.
He believes a trades qualification will provide security for his whānau. But says there aren’t enough opportunities for people in South Auckland.
“You end up with a criminal conviction and then they won't hire you because of it. Then because they won't get hired they end up doing more crime and it's just a circle, going round and round in circles. I was one of them and yeah, time for a change. Get s... together and grow up.”
“South Auckland could probably be a better place, I mean there's heaps of potential here.”
UNREASONABLE BURDEN OF STRESS
TSI was involved in the Early Years project focused on families. They discovered too many South Auckland families are living with an unreasonable burden of stress.
“The science backs up you just can’t tell someone to pull their socks up and do better if they’re living with stress that robs their brain of the capacity to problem solve.”
If we reduce the stress people in less prosperous communities are living with they will be able to solve their own problems. But if we burden them with poor housing, poor quality, low paid jobs nobody will thrive.
She says 30 years of trying to fix those problems with services, programmes and interventions hasn’t worked well enough, more innovative approaches are needed.
“It’s not achieving change at the pace needed if everybody’s to do well and not have this unfairness where some communities are prospering and others are lagging behind.”
There’s a paradox in South Auckland - although there is economic growth and lots of jobs there are also a lot of people who don’t have work. Three of the five South Auckland boards have above-average business activity growth. Only Manurewa scores below the Auckland median for jobs per 100 residents.
But the number of people who are living on benefits in South Auckland is alarmingly high and of concern.
PRODUCTIVITY WARNING BELLS
If the struggle isn’t already hard enough for some Aucklanders, there is also a warning about a decline in productivity growth.
ATEED general manager economic growth Patrick McVeigh says the analysis of Auckland’s performance at a macro level is annual growth of 3.4 per cent in the gross domestic product (GDP, the official measure of economic expansion).
Auckland is considered the nation’s economic powerhouse because it contributes 38 per cent to the country’s GDP. But it has lower household productivity or GDP per capita than Taranaki and Wellington.
McVeigh is ringing the alarm bell over GDP per capita growth in the Super City. He has real concern Auckland’s workforce isn’t gaining value per worker - it’s slowing down. If it continues to decline it will put even more pressure on those who are struggling.
“If we create value per worker that is going to create productivity and over the long run increased productivity tends to deliver increased prosperity,” says McVeigh.
“Auckland’s productivity premium over the rest of New Zealand is slowly reducing and at risk of being lost. Auckland is also falling behind international peers in terms of GDP per capita, a challenging trend as we continue to compete internationally for talent and investment.”
He says it’s not just about creating high-value jobs but connecting people to companies, ensuring locals are able to access good education and higher wages through the use of public transport.
In the Prosperity Index only five boards score above the Auckland average for highly skilled jobs. That includes Ōtara-Papatoetoe, whose score is due to the presence of significant employment in tertiary education and local government. But the benefit is reduced by having the highest level of employment in declining industries, companies where technology is impacting on jobs.
REBUILDING THE SOUTH
Auckland Council will spend billions of dollars on infrastructure in the next two decades. It’s being seen as an opportunity for both the commercial and social sectors to gain some wins.
Manukau is a priority transformation area for the Auckland Council. Surgenor wants to ensure locals get a slice of the action by using the Council’s procurement strategy to make sure it happens.
She’s already used it when the new multiplatform bus station was built in Manukau recently. The contractor was obliged to provide five quality jobs to locals and used the Trades Training scheme to fill the positions. In the end, 13 people were given positions on the build.
“If we hadn’t used the procurement lever they wouldn’t have got those jobs. Those 13 people are still in their jobs and they’ve moved onto other developments. They’ve got a quality job with upskilling built into their contract. They’ve got a quality opportunity that’s going to make a difference to their lives and their families’ lives.”
Now Auckland Transport has committed to applying similar contractual requirements to develop the city’s transport infrastructure, including the $3.4b City Rail Link.
She says Transport Minister Phil Twyford was at the opening of the Manukau bus station and committed to applying the same approach into transport and housing projects funded by the central government.
The high-growth technology sector is being touted as an industry that could make a positive impact on the economy and people’s prosperity. Tech is now the third largest export industry in New Zealand, behind dairy and tourism.
ICT has grown 25 per cent in the last 10 years. Along with digital media it makes up 3.2 per cent of employment in Auckland, or 1 in every 30 workers, employing 37,000 people. Nearly half of the country’s tech companies are based in Auckland.
But the growth of the sector means there are not enough skilled workers to fill positions. In 2016, 14,000 new jobs were created in the sector but only 5090 students graduated. 5500 overseas workers were issued visas, leaving 3410 vacancies.
McVeigh acknowledges not only is there a skills shortage but jobs will be lost across Auckland in the next 10 years because of the use of technology.
“It is urgent but I think one of the things we need to remember is many of the jobs people are doing now didn’t exist 10 years ago.
“And many of the jobs we will be doing in 10 years time, don’t exist yet. So, what we need to do is build resilience. We need to build both from a skills perspective, but also something that is important, is that entrepreneurial mindset as well.”
Many of Auckland’s ICT companies are based in the CBD, where ATEED is also building innovation hubs.
AUT Head of Computer Science Dave Parry says kids in poorer communities are missing out and so is the tech sector, because CBD-based businesses aren’t tapping into the potential in South and West Auckland.
Young people aren’t being given the opportunity to immerse themselves into tech environments because of where they live and where the businesses are located, he says
“It may be that there isn’t a tradition of technology education at school, there isn't stuff at home, they don't know anybody who works in the sector and so they just don't see themselves as part of that.
It’s hard to go to university if none of your relatives have ever gone to university. It's hard to do technology. You can't talk to anybody because no one else has ever done it - you’ve got no role model.
Parry believes the tech sector needs to do better to attract young people who aren’t traditionally involved in the industry.
“The cliche of the overweight guy in his tee-shirt with crumbs on it writing code is still very prevalent,” he says. “We have got a big image problem.”
Callahan Innovation chief executive Vic Crone says Auckland is competing for skills on the world stage and it’s tough. She believes people no longer need to spend years at a traditional institution to learn about technology or to upskill. “There are thousands and thousands of online courses in the spaces we are talking about, in new technology.”
It’s got to be a good thing for areas like South Auckland. It’s about how do they get access? How do they know about technology to increase their prosperity over the next few decades.
“What happens if you don’t do that? The inequality will get worse.”
Gael Surgenor agrees. She’s working with the Council’s heavyweights ATEED and Panuku to build a technology hub in Manukau. Expected to open in July, it’s based on the Grid in the CBD where people share an office space with industry peers and collaborate on different projects.
Surgenor says: “It’s been our way of making sure the CBD doesn’t get all the opportunities, we create opportunities in the South.”
She’s hoping the Manukau hub will attract young entrepreneurs.
“It’ll be a lot cheaper to run your little tech business in a coworking space in Manukau, a few minutes walk from Manukau train station then rent a space in the CBD or the North Shore.”
She admits it will be easier to attract startups than established businesses who have to relocate. “We also know young people today don’t just want to run a business. They want to make a difference in the world we can create the kinds of environments to attract those people.”
Delmun Wharewaka, Timoti’s dad, says his son wants to start up his own tech business. They expect he will be a role model for young people in their community.
“He could come back to the Ōtara community and help out all our youth here and show them the pathways he had, give back to the Ōtara community,” says Delmun.
“We are passionate about where we live.”
For now, Timoti is commuting between his home in Ōtara and Wellington to work. He’s focused on learning all aspects of how a business operates with Accenture, where he’s being mentored.
Where does he see himself heading? “I really want to develop my professional skills, I want to enable myself so I can get to the point where I can serve my community with the skills I have attained.”
But Timoti has a warning for those living in South Auckland, especially youth.
“Globally we are seeing more changes, innovation, more technology dominating all industries,” says Timoti.
I think it is really important to get on the boat because in 10 to 20 years those jobs that were there before aren't going to be, technology is just re-innovating everything.
Auckland camera team
Dan Woodfield and Jake Ji
Jason Dorday and David White
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