Pay teach­ers more or ex­pect more in­equal­ity

The Dominion Post - - Opinion -

Fan­tas­tic news this week about un­em­ploy­ment. Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics New Zealand, it’s down to 3.9 per cent, a rate we haven’t hit since 2008. This is great news for the Gov­ern­ment be­cause it tends to nul­lify all that talk about busi­ness be­ing mis­er­able and not em­ploy­ing any­one.

The of­fi­cial fig­ure, based on the House­hold Labour Force Sur­vey, doesn’t mean that about 96 per cent of the avail­able work­force is ac­tu­ally in full-time work and, in that way, it can be con­fus­ing.

The sur­vey col­lects in­for­ma­tion from a sam­ple sur­vey of about 15,000 rep­re­sen­ta­tive house­holds ev­ery three months. It records un­em­ployed peo­ple as those with­out a paid job, avail­able for work, and who have ei­ther ac­tively sought work in the past four weeks or have a new job to start within the next four weeks.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, in the three months to the end of Septem­ber, 109,000 peo­ple were un­em­ployed – 13,000 fewer than in the June 2018 quar­ter. How­ever in the same quar­ter (to the end of Septem­ber), 129,643 peo­ple were get­ting the Job­seeker (un­em­ploy­ment) ben­e­fit, a 7.4 per cent rise on the same quar­ter last year.

You don’t qual­ify for the Job­seeker ben­e­fit un­til you are 18 so that num­ber doesn’t in­clude all those un­em­ployed 16 and 17-yearolds still liv­ing at home.

The labour force data also has a lag fac­tor as a down­turn takes a while to af­fect job statis­tics. How­ever, for all its flaws, the rate is use­ful for com­par­a­tive pur­poses.

It shouldn’t sur­prise any of us that the rate is so low. In fact you could ar­gue we are at full em­ploy­ment, partly be­cause even a thriv­ing econ­omy with plen­ti­ful jobs doesn’t have a job for ev­ery­one of work­ing age. Some are un­em­ploy­able, some are in the wrong place and some haven’t got the skills re­quired.

We are bom­barded daily by news of se­vere short­ages of work­ers. The con­struc­tion in­dus­try ap­pears to be in a con­stant state of staffing cri­sis and this week we heard the rest-home in­dus­try re­lies on mi­grants for 30 per cent of its work­force.

Dairy farms, vine­yards and or­chards suf­fer from dire worker short­ages and em­ploy­ers are look­ing des­per­ately for more mid­wives, po­lice of­fi­cers, doc­tors and, yes, bee­keep­ers.

How­ever, the most wor­ry­ing short­age is the teacher cri­sis. Such is the lack of teach­ers avail­able for next year that the Gov­ern­ment is try­ing to re­cruit nearly 1000 teach­ers from over­seas.

This is an ex­pen­sive form of re­cruit­ment. Teach­ers have to be en­ticed with re­lo­ca­tion ex­penses, and agents also ex­tract a fee. Some will be a waste of money, es­pe­cially if they leave the pro­fes­sion as soon as res­i­dency is ob­tained or can’t cope with the New Zealand sys­tem or schools where they are needed. It’s no sur­prise the lower-decile schools are the ones strug­gling to fill their ros­ters.

Clearly, we re­quire a small army of highly paid elite teach­ers to go into lower-decile schools to help en­sure all chil­dren get a rea­son­able chance at a de­cent life.

How did we get into this pickle over teach­ers? Surely it can’t be that hard to work out how many chil­dren are com­ing through the sys­tem and how many staff are re­quired.

Ob­vi­ously it’s more com­pli­cated when you think about it. Fam­i­lies move around, im­mi­grants with chil­dren might not get into the statis­tics im­me­di­ately, and it must be dif­fi­cult to know how many teach­ers are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion, ei­ther through re­tire­ment or dis­af­fec­tion. I won­der how many teach­ers who want to re­tire are still in front of the class­room be­cause they know that with­out them there wouldn’t be a maths or sci­ence teacher for cer­tain years.

One fac­tor in the teacher short­age is, we are re­peat­edly told, that teach­ers aren’t paid enough and there­fore leave for greener pas­tures, or just get fed up be­cause they feel un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated. Of course the more their unions ag­i­tate for more pay and ben­e­fits, the worse they make the job seem.

The pres­sures, the chil­dren with spe­cial needs, trou­ble­some be­hav­iour, work­ing at night and on week­ends, bu­reau­cracy and the de­mands of pushy par­ents. The unions make the job sound hor­ren­dous while at the same time say­ing they are work­ing to re­tain and re­cruit more teach­ers.

We should value teach­ers more and that means they should be paid more. Teach­ers play such a cru­cial role in re­duc­ing in­equal­ity in so­ci­ety and lay­ing the ground­work for pros­per­ity that the pro­fes­sion should be one of the higher-sta­tus jobs around. In some coun­tries it is, and high-qual­ity can­di­dates com­pete to get into the train­ing col­leges. Per­haps we need to take a more mil­i­tary ap­proach.

Clearly we re­quire a small army of highly paid elite teach­ers to go into lower-decile schools to help en­sure all chil­dren get a rea­son­able chance at a de­cent life.

Re­cent com­par­a­tive stud­ies from in­ter­na­tional bod­ies show New Zealand is not do­ing well at re­duc­ing the gap be­tween its best and worse stu­dents.

Teach­ers can do only so much. At least half the dif­fer­ence in in­come be­tween any two peo­ple is de­ter­mined by their par­ents, ei­ther through in­her­ited traits like in­tel­li­gence, good looks and tem­per­a­ment or through the qual­ity and cir­cum­stances of their up­bring­ing.

We can’t change genes and it’s very dif­fi­cult to change par­ent­ing but we can do some­thing about ed­u­ca­tion. The need to re­cruit teach­ers from over­seas is a fail­ure of the sys­tem and will cre­ate many prob­lems down the track.

We ex­pect an enor­mous amount from our teach­ers, in­clud­ing so­cial engi­neer­ing. They should get more money and higher sta­tus.

That will keep the un­em­ploy­ment rate down.


Teach­ers at a vote in June on pos­si­ble strike ac­tion.

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