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To succeed, we need to unify

More than $150 million was earmarked for this region through the Provincial Growth Fund last year — but for the woman at the helm of the Tairawhiti PGF office, the fund is much more than dollars and cents. Senior regional official Apryll Parata shares her vision of the project with Shaan Te Kani, and says “people” are at the heart of it.

Care is the new drug in town, according to Apryll Parata: Commitment. Action. Reciprocity. Employment.

This proud Ngati Porou woman is on a mission to spread this message, to help Tairawhiti grow faster, bigger and better.

She believes we can get there as a community, but we need to care for and about one another first. We need to unify.

Her stance is unequivocal and her manner is very direct, but she is also incredibly optimistic, led by a passion to help grow the people of the Tairawhiti region.

“I feel very strongly about growing our region.

“I work with and across the public service and its many partners to support regional growth and development. “And that, in practice, means growing the economy, growing employment, growing environmental sustainability. Those are the three primary interests.

“Fundamentally, it’s about making things grow faster, grow bigger, grow better.

“When you think about that in practical terms, its about scaling-up what is already here.

“We’re interested in getting product to markets and services to people, both of which can create new employment, and doing so in sustainable and environmentally friendly ways.

“There are four priority growth industries here: forestry, horticulture, civil construction (roading), and tourism, food and hospitality — with a strong technology cut across all of them.

“We want to literally put those on steroids — to make them go faster, bigger, and better.

“But people are at the heart of this. A dedicated attention to building workforce capacity and capability is my No.1 priority, because it is the single biggest barrier to our region’s growth,” she says.

“What is presenting, in terms of the workforce challenges, is just too much for any one agent or agency to have to take responsibility for, and try to solve.

“First of all we have to all care about the issues, secondly we need to unify, and thirdly we need to be clear about what our purpose is.

“Because I think you can get hung up on the investment and the dollars. But that’s really only valuable if it grows better citizens and better communities.

“A pre-condition to growing the economy, to growing employment, to growing the environment in a sustainable manner, is to grow good citizens. We need an inexhaustible supply.”

The PGF aims to enhance economic development opportunities, create sustainable jobs, boost social inclusion and participation and contribution, build resilient communities, enable and realise Maori potential, and help meet New Zealand’s climate change targets.

“All the responsibility of good citizens.”

Since the fund started investing, there have been 20 projects approved in the Tairawhiti, to the value of $177,488,156.

To date, 79 jobs have been created, and more will come over time.

So what will the Tairawhiti public see generally?

In two words, “more jobs — as a direct result of a vibrant local economy,” says Apryll.

But jobs don’t just happen overnight, she adds.

“If you look at roading, hundreds of jobs will come out of that investment.

“But it takes a bit of time from negotiating and signing a contract to shifting dirt on a road and laying down tarseal.

“The Provincial Development Unit are the stewards of taxpayers’ money. You’ve got to take more care with the processes that you use for distributing that funding — so it does take a bit of time, more than most would like, but we take our responsibilities seriously because we care.

“I think people are impatient to see progress, and I understand that. I think regional New Zealand is feeling quite miffed about the fact they’ve been ignored, and that huge investment has gone into the bigger cities at the expense of the provinces.

“The Government has heard that message and this fund is part of their response . . . it’s just that things take time to work their way through.”

But with more jobs, comes the need for more workers. A willing workforce that is skilled, trained and qualified for the jobs on offer.

Finding the right people is presenting as one of the main challenges.“I’ve got employers who are consistently telling me that they can’t find people who want to work, or are appropriately skilled,” says Apryll.

“Our unemployment rate in this region is higher than the average, and we’ve got all of these employment opportunities presenting, which is great.

“So we’ve got a challenge, to bring the right attitude from Tairawhiti citizens to the workforce and workplace, to take advantage of the opportunities that are real and on offer. Because if we don’t, employers will be forced to bring in the workforce from other regions and other countries if we don’t act locally.

“One of the things I’ve been impressing upon employers, and a principle that I have adopted, is that we have to have a target of 75 percent homegrown workforce. It’s ambitious but it’s also achievable if we unify, mobilise people and unleash the full power of every good citizen in our region. We need to CARE.

“Now, that won’t happen overnight but if we put that in people’s mindsets, over time, it will come.

“Yes, employers have immediate needs that need to be addressed by us all, not just them. We have to solve the issue of people not wanting to work, not having the right attitude or even being interested in working. This absolutely has to change.

“It’s this challenge that I will be focused on. More pastoral care and wrap-around is needed from employers now than was expected in my time as a teenager, or when I started in my first permanent job.

“The resilience that used to be, is not as strong as we might like, or expect it to be.

“As a result, the way in which we respond to young people has to be quite different.

“Retention is an issue. The culture of a workplace is really important now in a way that previously it has not been. This generation is very mobile and if they don’t like something they simply move on. People generally don’t leave a job, they leave a workplace.

“Industry place-based training is also going to become bigger. Learning while you’re earning. Education itself needs to rethink what it’s doing and make the links for youth while they are still at school with career and employment pathways.

“We have to have a skills match for the growth in our local industries.”

While it’s a challenge, Apryll is determined and optimistic about positive outcomes, and wants everyone else to be too.

One way she aims to do this is by helping to unify people around common purpose.

“There’s nothing that good or great relationships can’t fix. What I think has been missing is ownership, leadership and coherence within and across the region.

“I’ve spent a lot of time re-establishing working relationships, not establishing them — because they already existed but needed re-energising and revitalising.

“I’ve just been going around talking to everybody and listening to them, to hear what their concerns or issues are.

“Where there are problems, it is because there is an imbalance in the power and resources, and who has got control over those and how they are used and where.

“An example that has been referred to frequently in my discussions is the Tairawhiti Economic Action Plan. It had to be revisited because it didn’t take into account iwi and Maori interests. Our population is 50 percent Maori, so it was right to do so. The process for the refresh of this plan in the past six months has explicitly addressed this, which is great.”

While this is an age-old problem, Apryll says her perspective will help change how things are done, for the better.

“I can have conversations with people in a way that I think others probably couldn’t or are fearful of. I’m very direct, I’m very action and results-orientated. And I suspect that is probably why I was asked to take on this job.”

The former deputy chief executive of the Ministry of Education moved home to take up the position of senior regional official for the Tairawhiti PGF in December.

Born in Te Puia Springs, raised and educated in Ruatoria and Gisborne and later at Waikato University, Apryll has a strong education background.

She was a principal of Ngata College in Ruatoria, deputy principal of Te Waha o Rerekohu in Te Araroa and Lytton High School, and has spent the past 12 years at the Ministry of Education in Wellington.

“All my life, instilled in us, as a family, were two principles. That we have an obligation to serve, and the principle of reciprocity.

“When I was asked if I would consider moving back from Wellington to take on this role, I was flattered, honoured and genuinely excited about it. And since being back, I’ve felt the vibrancy that hasn’t always been present on past visits . . . We’re on the cusp of great things.”

Unity, honour, integrity, reciprocity and boundless optimism are key to the work of the Provincial Development Unit, she says.

“We’ve got to be committed, we’ve got to take action, we’ve got to be prepared to give — if we want to receive — and employment, based on strong education, will take you where you need to. CARE, the new drug in the Tairawhiti region.

“We can grow better and faster than any other region if we unify.”

WORKFORCE FOCUS: Apryll Parata, the new senior official here for the Provinical Development Unit, says building workforce capacity and capability is her No.1 priority — as it is the single biggest barrier to our region’s growth. Picture by Paul Rickard