We are proactively connecting people back into the workforce - Annual Report 2019/20

One of our key outcomes is that New Zealanders participate positively in society and reach their potential. Employment and earnings are not only an essential foundation for better living standards, they also have health and wider social benefits.

We play a key role in providing employment services to New Zealanders. This includes working alongside people who are unemployed or having difficulty in the labour market, to help them prepare for work and to support them to find meaningful and sustainable employment.

We want to improve people’s readiness for and access to employment, while recognising that people also participate through volunteering or caring for whānau and families. We engage with people, whānau, families and communities to understand their aspirations and what is important to them, including their situation, culture and values. We help to connect people with opportunities to realise their goals.

We received funding from the Government in the 2019 and 2020 Budgets for more frontline staff focused on employment – this year we employed 170 extra staff from Budget 2019 funding, with another 93 to come on board in 2020/21. Budget 2020 provided funding for an additional 56 employment-focused staff.

We delivered employment-focused services support more quickly to help more clients find work

Although the top priority for our case managers in the initial COVID-19 response period was addressing people’s income, hardship and housing needs, we were later able to turn our focus to getting them back on their feet and helping them build a stable environment for themselves by finding work, accessing training, managing money, or connecting with a community service.

As New Zealand moved down to Alert Level 2 and then Level 1, we were able to progressively increase employment-focused engagements with clients:

3,065 employment exits in April 2020
6,080 in May 2020
7,519 in June 2020 [1]

We are using our regional presence to build on these employment services

Our employment services will be a key factor in New Zealand’s social and economic recovery from COVID-19. The pandemic led to a significant increase in the number of people seeking employment assistance. Many of these have never had to seek our help before.

We stepped up our focus on employment and worked proactively to connect people back to the workforce as quickly as possible. We set up Rapid Response employment teams in each of our 11 regions to support employers and employees at a regional level, including helping employers link with other employers to provide opportunities for staff who were unable to work. The Rapid Response teams operated throughout Alert Levels 4 and 3, focusing on employers in essential services.

Once we moved from Level 4 to Level 3, we opened 35 sites across the country on a remote-working basis, concentrating on employment services and operated by employment-focused staff, to respond to employers’ and jobseekers’ needs. All sites reopened at Level 2.

We established new employment programmes to help the significantly higher numbers of people seeking help because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many highly skilled people looking for work who have never needed to access our help before.

In April 2020 we launched an online recruitment tool to assist employers looking for staff and workers looking for job opportunities. The tool connects employers and jobseekers, with a view to meeting immediate demand, particularly in essential services and for temporary or casual staff.

By 30 June 2020 the Work and Income Online Recruitment Tool had:

  • 21,460 jobseekers registered
  • 2,454 employers registered
  • 3,079 vacancies listed
  • 5,124 applications lodged by jobseekers

Also in April, we started up our Rapid Return to Work service, which gives new jobseekers information on vacancies, preparing CVs and cover letters, getting ready for interviews, and identifying transferable skills. The scheme is being piloted with people who have recently lost their job and come into the benefit system. It is phone-based, and people can join the scheme through a new function in MyMSD.

By 30 June 2020:

1,496 people had used the Rapid Return to Work service
493 had obtained work and left the benefit system

In June 2020 the Government announced that MSD will lead and deliver the new Apprentice Boost Initiative, a $380 million wage subsidy to help employers keep existing apprentices and employ new ones. This was part of a package that also included a $30 million expansion of the existing Mana in Mahi programme, which will now provide support for up to 24 months.

We made it easier for people to get the support they need

Being effective in supporting New Zealanders during COVID-19 meant we had to rethink traditional ways of making our services available. For example, we streamlined benefit processes to make online or phone approval easier, temporarily removed stand-down periods, waived the requirement for subsequent medical certificates, deferred annual reviews for Disability Allowance, and put a hold on sanctions for obligations failures.

During Alert Level 4, when physical service centres were closed and providing phone service only, and demand for our services was very high, we temporarily increased the amount people could obtain through MyMSD for food costs by $400 in a 26-week period. This meant people had less need to contact us multiple times [2]. We also increased the number of grants that a client could apply for in a week from one to two.

We continued making service centres more welcoming and comfortable

Feedback from clients on the new service centre environment has been very positive. By 30 June 2020 we had rolled out the new design to 95 of our service centres.

In October 2019 we started to introduce modern, secure self-service computers in service centres. Around half our service centres are now equipped with the new self-service computers, and installation will be completed in all our sites by June 2021. Clients have said the new computers are faster and easier to use, and allow them to do a lot more. They can go online at no cost to:

  1. access MSD and other services, including Trade Me and Neighbourly for rentals or jobs, and support services like Are You OK?
  2. use email
  3. create and save documents like CVs and cover letters.

We accelerated long-planned projects to streamline and digitise existing processes

COVID-19 provided us with an opportunity to accelerate several planned technology projects, including upgrades to existing channels such as MyMSD, new online tools such as the employment portal, and work to modernise collaborative working systems such as a move to video conferencing and chat groups. The move towards a virtual workforce led to improvements in the way internal teams and processes work, including in visibility of services, better data on productivity, managing work, service levels, and connectedness with the regions.

The new processes were quickly found to be more efficient. In many cases, clients were paid within the hour. Managing call centre queues nationally was also more efficient than the pre-COVID locally managed approach.

We made further enhancements to our digital channels

This has put us in a good position to help clients access information and services and provide us with the information we need more easily.

In MyMSD, where people can apply and manage their own information online, our online application form is now easier to use on a mobile phone or tablet and is more accessible for people with disabilities. People can now upload documents to MyMSD and new clients can apply for a client number online instead of calling or visiting a service centre.

The Work and Income website is an important source of support and information, with more than 49 million visits [3]. We have made it simpler to navigate and read, so people can more easily find the support they need.

To support more people back into work, we added a new employment support feature into MyMSD. This was launched in September 2019 to provide a new digital space with information about job hunting and links to job search sites, and connection to our employment services. Up to 30 June 2020 there had been almost 260,000 visits to the page by nearly 65,000 people. This represents an average of 6,100 visits each week, which rose to 7,700 between April and June 2020.

We introduced proactive text messaging to remind clients about upcoming appointments. Feedback has been positive, and we have seen a 10 percent increase in appointment attendance, and fewer rescheduled or cancelled appointments.

We are moving to a more agile approach to the way we manage work

Portfolios of work have been introduced across functional groups to focus on end-to-end processes, such as employment, income support, housing, and Māori communities and partnerships. Focusing on these portfolios helps us prioritise the most effective use of resources (people and systems) to deliver the greatest value for clients and partners.

We created new reporting and data products to support the COVID-19 response

COVID-19 created an unprecedented level of demand for new reporting and data products to show the impacts on people, society and the New Zealand economy.

Our capability to provide regular reporting on the Wage Subsidy and the broader welfare system to the Government, other agencies and the public has been integral to the COVID-19 response. In a dynamic, fast-moving environment we moved rapidly to identify what information was needed and who needed it, and to develop and publish new information as quickly as possible to support a wide range of audiences.

The response to COVID-19 demanded a higher frequency of reporting, so we began reporting on weekly and monthly cycles as well as on our traditional quarterly basis, to explain the impacts of COVID-19. We released the new reports on our website along with data files, which held additional data in a format that New Zealanders can use to conduct their own analysis.

We published a high-level overview of benefit forecasts for the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU) 2020, including two additional scenarios, along with a data file. This release increased visibility to external stakeholders and the public. The accompanying data also gave our technical audience (economists and analysts) more information.

In addition to providing reporting and analysis, we have released a range of evidence briefs that examine the broader effects of COVID-19 on New Zealanders and the community, as well as the effects of policy changes both within New Zealand and internationally. Topics covered include:

  • the changing face of Jobseeker Support recipients
  • the immediate and medium-term social and psychosocial impacts of COVID-19 during the initial four-week period of lockdown
  • how benefit numbers can be used as a timelier indicator of the status of the labour market, rather than traditional unemployment statistics.

This data, analysis and evidence represented a significant contribution to supporting evidence-based decision-making, and our commitment to the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government.

We accelerated some planned internal technology changes to meet increased demand for services

We scaled up our services quickly and evolved our business model to provide assistance to the thousands more people who needed our help during and after the nationwide lockdown. In Alert Levels 4 and 3 a significant proportion of our staff had to shift to working from home. To help with this we:

  • redistributed laptops to key staff, and purchased new laptops to meet increasing demand
  • significantly increased our network capacity
  • accelerated already-planned work to modernise collaborative working tools, such as video conferencing, online meetings and chat groups
  • rapidly delivered a payment system for the Wage Subsidy
  • increased the capacity of our digital channels
  • established a centralised IT and Security Operations Centre to provide 24/7 support for our core systems, ensuring a timelier response to system issues that may impact the delivery of services to our clients.

We increased remote contact services when our service centres closed temporarily to the public during Alert Levels 4 and 3

During Alert Levels 4 and 3 there was significantly more pressure on our call centres – we answered over 445,000 calls in the four weeks between 13 April and 10 May 2020, an increase of 23 percent on the same period in 2019. Despite this volume increase, we reduced call response times by a third (9 minutes 39 seconds to 6 minutes 12 seconds) in the same period.

We doubled the capacity of MyMSD to enable more people (4,000 instead of 2,000) to access the service simultaneously, and streamlined access to services through MyMSD, including enabling clients to upload documents digitally rather than having to physically bring them into a service centre.

We set up a new COVID-19 information page on the Work and Income website to provide easy online access to information about the assistance we could provide to support people through the COVID-19 lockdown and recovery periods. This proved very popular with the public: between 22 April (when the page went live) and 30 June 2020 there were over 562,000 page views.

When centres reopened to the public under nationwide Alert Level 2 in May they continued to operate under restricted access, with contact tracing and physical distancing measures. We encouraged people to make appointments to visit us rather than call in without prior arrangement, so we could respond in a quicker and more managed way in the new environment of increased demand for access to services.


  1. The number of exits to employment has continued to increase in the early part of 2020/21. Return to text
  2. Maximum amounts returned to pre-COVID levels from 10 August 2020. Return to text
  3. This includes 308,000 visits to Find a Job, our online jobs database at https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/work/online-jobdatabase/index.html. Other MSD websites have also been very popular, with more than 1.9 million visits to StudyLink’s website https://www.studylink.govt.nz/, 759,000 to the ‘Check what you can get’ online eligibility guide at https://check.msd.govt.nz/, and 434,000 to the new SuperGold Card site at https://www.supergold.govt.nz/ in the nine months since its launch in October 2019. Altogether MSD websites were visited more than 81 million times this year. Return to text

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