New jobs supporting rural life

27 May 2021 by Andy Kenworthy

On the East Coast of the North Island around Mahia the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is helping to create employment that carefully matches local needs.

Whangawehi Catchment Management Group (WCMG) is a community and Marae-led conservation group. It is working to restore the health of this major river catchment in partnership with Hawkes Bay Regional Council, the Department of Conservation and Wairoa District Council

With the help of the SBN, in recent months WCMG has received a $429,586 funding boost from the Government’s Jobs for Nature Fund. The Fund is administered by the Department of Conservation. It was created to respond to pandemic driven regional unemployment and the declining health of New Zealand’s waterways and landscapes.

This has enabled the group to employ up to 9 staff over the last few months. It’s accelerating the group’s work, while providing just the right sort of employment opportunities for rural people.

Nic Caviale Delzescaux runs Terra Tangata Environmental Consulting. He provides expert support to the group. “It is a beauty of our project that we’ve been planting for many years, over more than 150 hectares,” he says. “There is scope to generate work every week. We’ve been running things on the smell of an oily rag, so it’s great to have more people and better gear.”

As well as funding, the Group has also had advice on HR issues and health and safety from SBN, which is facilitating similar projects up and down the country.  

“It’s extremely rewarding,” says Nic. “People in areas like ours are always looking for work. It’s great to be able to get them involved. We can now get them trained and pay them properly. It’s about sharing the wealth and sharing the love. That way they can change their lifestyles and in some cases turn their lives around.”

As part of the Group’s expansion, it made a decision to work closely with their long term foreman Malcolm Westerlund. His experience facing the challenges of being a single parent in the area have made him adept at adapting the jobs to suit people’s individual needs. Rather than just employing Malcolm on a short term contract, the Group has assisted him to set up independently as Company Limited as this provides more of a long term career pathway for his skills.   

“Malcolm understands that for a lot of the people around here this can’t be a straight forward ‘eight-to-five’ type set-up,” explains Nic. “Many young people in our area have their own issues in their lives. Most will be doing some seasonal sheering or other farm work, but they may not be working all the time. They’re not particularly money or career focused. There are days when they won’t be coming along to work, but we can accommodate that and just track their hours overall. With Malcolm’s help we can offer and complete continuous work by ensuring it works well for the people doing it.”  

This includes employing a young local Māori woman who grew up on her parents’ farm in the area. The home farm isn’t big enough to employ her, so she’s working and training through the group to keep doing the work she loves and gain the skills she needs.

“We love the fact that we are able to offer work in an area where there isn’t much employment,” says Nic. “We hope this will help more young people to be able to stay in this beautiful place.”