Department of Social Development Zoom job fairs: Taxpayers shell out over $800,000, only 126 people attend

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Taxpayers shelled out more than $800,000 for Zoom job fairs hosted by the Department of Social Development.

Newstalk ZB can reveal that the events did not trigger, with only 126 people participating since the first pilot two years ago.

This equates to $6626 per participant.

Even Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni admits the exhibits haven’t “taken off”, but discounts the high cost of building a new digital platform.

National says the Labor government is “spraying cash” in the hope that some of this will work.

Social Development party spokeswoman Louise Upston said the money was disappearing.

“Not only is it a huge waste of money…it hasn’t helped people find work.”

In response to written questions from National, Sepuloni said the first pilot of the Virtual Job Expo was held for 30 job seekers in October 2020 and involved staff holding a seminar to recruit for ministerial positions in the region of Nelson.

The second event in March 2021 was a ‘tactical response’ to Auckland’s lockdown, comprising five seminars with 11 attendees.

A registration and invitation phase was added to the third and final pilot in August 2021, with four seminars organized for 85 people by the ministry and recruiting companies.

The chief executive of the Department for Social Development’s jobs group, Hugh Miller, said the shows connected jobseekers with employers, who could then set up follow-up meetings and interviews.

Zoom has been integrated for video calls.

A total of $835,000 was spent on the program, a cost the opposition called “appalling”.

But Sepuloni told Newstalk ZB it was “not a total waste of money” as some was spent on IT systems.

“There are elements of the digital platform that can be used in the future, there are lessons that can be learned from developing that…and that’s an area where we need to grow in the future,” said she declared.

“Did this one hit the mark completely? No.”

Sepuloni said job fairs “probably” won’t happen again in the same form, and the Department of Social Development “acknowledged that using the platform for this purpose was not as successful as they would have hoped”.

“They need to try things.”

Upston is not buying it, reiterating his party line that Labor is “addicted to spending”.

“Zero liability, [and] no understanding of what is actually going to help people get jobs,” she said.

“were talking [about] $6,600 per attendee…just for them to show up for a Zoom meeting.”

“I’m sorry, this shows an appalling lack of understanding of what needs to be done.”

The Department of Social Development has confirmed to Newstalk ZB that the virtual job expo pilots have now ended as they were developed in response to Covid-19 alert level restrictions.

Joel C. Hicks