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With a son who looks Māori and a daughter who looks pakeha, Jody Hamilton was surprised by their radically different experiences growing up. Statistics show that you are three times more likely to be suspended if you are Māori, two times more likely to find yourself NEET and three times more likely to commit suicide. Jody realised that if her son and others like him were to succeed, there needed to be better pathways to employment, and that she could be a part of the solution. Now, eighteen years on, Jody has broad experience in economic and social development with a focus on indigenous and youth employment, and runs a consultancy business that connect communities and companies. “Business can only prosper in communities that prosper.”

This personal reflection formed part of a powerful introduction to Launchpad Work’s second speaker event, titled Work: What’s Working. At this event we gathered the wisdom of three social impact forces – Jody Hamilton, Andrew Nicol and Tania Pouwhare – to discuss the barriers facing New Zealanders in the workforce, and the role of social enterprise in tackling them. Of the many themes emerging throughout the session, some of the strongest were the importance of building careers, future proofing skills in a changing world, and the power of embedding social value into procurement practice.

Building careers is something Andrew Nicol is passionate about, but he is the first to admit that he hasn’t let this be his sole driver. Andrew comes to social enterprise from a business perspective, using strong business cases to address social outcomes. He has already successfully applied this approach as the Managing Director of Agoge, and is now taking it to a new startup social enterprise, coHIRED, which connects people with jobs they love using specialised matching software. He encourages businesses to understand the correlation between valuing their employees and the overall success of their business, as well as the way it can drive the individual employees career.

Going beyond helping someone find the right job, we asked our panel what it takes to turn that job into a career for a person who may need extra support. We know that for people with significant barriers to employment, such as those with drug and alcohol dependency, challenges in the workplace can be enough to deplete their independent support networks very quickly. Tania Pouwhare highlighted research which has found that if a person can stay in a role for 3 months they have a significantly higher chance of staying in employment long-term, and spoke to the role of mentoring in supporting a person to develop their own resilience.  

As an intrapreneur, Tania has been changing the way Auckland Council thinks about their role in addressing social issues – supporting and enabling social innovation with a focus on social procurement in South Auckland.

“In Auckland we’ve been involved in 9 council-family contracts with social objectives. It’s taken five years to get this far. Last year I spent 300 hours trying to convince colleagues to take a strategic social procurement approach. Convince them that instead of funnelling money into addressing social problems in a conventional, piece-meal, grants-based way, if we pulled the procurement lever we can achieve the same positive outcomes through the money we have to spend anyway on the day-to-day core business of local government.”

As councils use their buying power to embed social procurement into the tendering process, new talent pipelines are created with mutually beneficial opportunities. In Europe and the UK 80% of procurement processes have a social component, and there hasn’t been any evidence that social outcomes create more cost for either party. Although still in its infancy, social procurement is starting to grow here in New Zealand, and holds a lot of potential to address social needs. We hope that over time we will see similar rates of social procurement here.

Future proofing of skills was another strong topic of the evening. Faced with the rapid depletion of jobs in the next 20 years as technology continues to develop, the panel discussed the future proofing of skills in a changing world. Tania noted, “resilience – and building resilience – is crucial. There’s a need to focus on problem-solving and innovative thinking – fostering entrepreneurial thinking.” The other speakers agreed that encouraging self-employment, entrepreneurship and creative thinking will equip future generations to face the changing job market, along with introducing technology into training, and building the cognitive and non-cognitive skills that build resilience.

And considering these issues, what role does social enterprise have to play? A very important one. And if you ask any of our panellists, it can be pretty effective at that role. As Jody put it, “you can’t underplay the opportunities that social enterprises create. They’re closer to the ground – they have real, genuine reach into communities and the environment they’re working in.”