Pay teachers more or expect more inequality
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.