Kaikohe turning employment statistics around

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

The small Northland town of Kaikohe often gets a bad rap in the media for low employment statistics.

But the Covid-19 Vaccination Healthline was set up in Kaikohe, which is turning those statistics around all while helping whānau get the support they need.  

Kaikohe is a rural town in Northland with a population of about 4500 and 78% of the people there are Māori. 

Hori Anaru is both; a proud member of the Healthline workforce and of Kaikohe. He told Te Ao Mārama he loves his community. "It's my home. I love it. It's my centre of the universe."

And in his workplace he is with a team dedicated to helping whānau.  

That connection

"There is that connection and we can relate and we are wanting to offer that support they are wanting,"  Anaru says.

He and Mary Davis are two of five supervisors who each look after five advisors each. Most work from home and all are proud to be doing what they do.

"It gives us a lot of comfort in knowing we are looking after our people," Davis said.

About2000 calls come in a week from those trying to book a vaccine. Another part of the service is well-being checks for those in MIQ or self-isolating. 

They say their understanding of rural life and their relationship with their community and kaumātua is a point of difference when talking to people they have never met. Mary described what a phone call could sound like: "Are you Māori? Ae. So where are you from? That's the first question we get." 

Their chief executive at Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi, Te Ropu Poa says that the background and nature of the staff is an X-factor for communicating information "especially when whānau call up, they can hear someone who sounds like us," then they can help make the process easy and understandable. 

The team started with three people last October and have grown to a team of 59. Kaimahi get 40 hours of work a week and access to budgeting services, health services, and support networks 

Davis says she couldn't be happier with her team. "I'm very very proud and a lot of our kaimahi have never had a job like this before." She explained that it's not easy to get on the phone and talk to a stranger but the team has grown in confidence and strength 

About 95% of the workers were previously unemployed, 90% of them from  Kaikohe.

Collaborative effort

The healthline was a collaborative effort with Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi and Whakarongorau Aotearoa, which run the National Telehealth Service for the Ministry of Health including the Covid-19 Vaccination Healthline and other Covid support services and they worked to set up the site in less than two weeks.

The Ministry of Social Development helped the centre with recruitment to help create a dream team. 

MSD regional director Graham MacPherson said in a media release the employment turnaround was a good outcome "to have our people connecting with whanau - many of whom live in isolated communities - and supporting them to get protected against the Covid-19 virus."

Poa says she is "proud of the young women" who have taken up the opportunity.

"The opportunity to do meaningful work - to help lift the level of health literacy in our community through early intervention - is changing the narrative for our wāhine toa, all of whom are grateful to have fulltime employment. A secondary benefit is that our contact centre whanau have got the message about vaccination and they bring their mamas and papas along to Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi to be vaccinated."

The message from Kaikohe today is clear: Sometimes the skills required for the tough jobs are found in the kāinga.