New Zealand Herald – Editorial – Careers Section 25th July 2012

Many people working in small business, self-employment, part-time work and contracting are experiencing quiet times with reduced work opportunities. Seasonal fluctuations in business are an on-going reality but this is exaggerated, currently, in the super-cautious market following the recession. The situation is further compounded by the on-going European debt crisis.

Whilst it appears that employment numbers have improved slightly and unemployment at 6.7% compares favourably with many countries, the real picture is much more complicated. The experience of under-employment is a growing trend. In its report on employment and unemployment for the March 2012 quarter, the Department of Labour figures show part-time employment up by 13,000, while full time employment fell by 3,000.

At present it seems that we can’t expect business as usual. The uncertainties are causing widespread caution and a volatile business market. What is happening for many is confusing and nerve-wracking to say the least, especially as living costs seem to be constantly increasing. A consequence of less or inconsistent work and income is discouragement for people, a lowering of self-belief, and often a withdrawal causing less visibility in the market place. This doubt translates into the questions “Am I in the right career?” “I need be earning more.” Often the issue is not about being in the right career. Rather, we have fewer work opportunities which results in a constant push for people to ‘up their game’ become indispensable at work, increase hours, diversify or restructure their lives.

I have been pondering the question, “How do we create work when there is little around?” The macro version of this question is about ‘we’ as New Zealanders, and our economy. The micro version is about ‘we’ as individuals. On the macro level when things are quiet we need strategies and to know where we are going, think broader to access offshore markets then gather our resources, get organised (and networked) and get going. The funny thing is that it is the same on a micro level!

Some people simply have the knack of making the most of things. The old saying “I am not what happens to me, I am what I choose to become” from Carl Jung’s philosophy is a powerful statement which points to the significance of will power. I think that we in Aotearoa New Zealand, with our strong entrepreneurial spirit, have the character and potentially, the collective will to ‘choose what we become’. We are used to pioneering, working hard and being flexible. We have a well-educated, talented but often under-utilised workforce that could achieve even more if we realised this and organised ourselves to maximise this characteristic.

These are testing times for many, yet they can be transformative times too. It takes courage to swim against the tide of pessimism, to remain optimistic, to make the most of challenging situations and to persist when the going gets tough. It also takes vision. Once I had a manager who, when business was light, said “Put energy out there and you get energy back”. This proved true every time. It spurred me on to get going and in no time work came flowing in. This is a universal principle: when one contracts, the world seems to contract too; when one expands ones world expands – often in spades!

So where are the opportunities to be found?

There is an emergence of work in ‘green’ industries, sustainability advisory, waste management, healthcare, professional services and IT, and some in construction. Small businesses that are tapping into the real needs of society and the environment are growing. An article in the NZ Herald Business section on 29 June listed 50 companies that are earning at least half their revenue from activities that benefit the environment. These companies are earning $1.148 billion in revenue at a growth rate of 17.5%. Early this month I was at the Thrive and Survive event put on by The Big Idea for creative entrepreneurs. The speakers came from diverse industries, not only the creative sector but also social and environmental sustainability fields. Their successes were impressive. All gave generously of their experience and some very important advice, for example:-

“Being useful to others – that is our business opportunity” Marianne Doczi, future thinker and commentator.

“We in New Zealand have a unique talent derived from our creativity – this is our competitive advantage” Nick Gerritson, entrepreneur in global clean-tech businesses

“Be open to other people’s ideas and bite off more than you can chew” Bernadette Casey, co- founder of the sustainable textiles business, The Formary.

It pays to get into the zone of inspiring people doing good things. Recently I was at an evening hosted by The Kitchen, a hub of social and environmental entrepreneurs. I was very inspired by two presenters who are developing their businesses. Both are women and each has a compelling vision.

Juliet Arnott of is an occupational therapist and artist who lived for some years in the UK, studying and making work from materials seen as waste. Now back in New Zealand, she is starting to manufacture beautiful dining room furniture using recycled, distressed timbers from old villas. On their website Rekindle proudly states that it is a social enterprise that makes furniture and other useful objects from waste wood…to support communities to utilise their wood waste and develop employment opportunities enabling youth to gain real and transferable work skills. Rekindle workshops are being established in both Auckland and in Christchurch where there is a high need for creative usage of resources both in terms of social and environmental needs.

Zoe Zimmerman is an environmental planner who is currently working on her Masters degree in Landscape architecture. Zoe has established as a resource for the promotion of Living Roofs. Her passion for living roofs is due to the benefits they provide for the environment, society and the economy. These are explained on her website

To explore what organisations are doing in some of these emerging areas Unitec’s Career Centre now offers a list of resources under the heading ‘Careers for a Sustainable World’. This resource can be accessed through the Unitec website

These are indeed challenging times but they also offer us an opportunity to reinvent what we are doing and the way we are doing it. If we focus on what we want for ourselves, our families, communities and environments and engage a positive programme of actions, we can begin to achieve greater social, environmental and economic wellbeing. It may mean shifting our aspirations, making adjustments in order to live within our means and restructuring our lives to suit. I have seen people put their talents and beliefs to good use over and over again. They have come to know what they want from life, why they want it, how they will achieve it and who is important in it. Rather than being victims of the changes we are experiencing, they are getting out there and getting going. Social and economic well-being is possible if we focus on actively finding or creating meaningful work for ourselves and others.