Give it a Nudge

Posted by Qiujing Wong on 3 March 2015
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Element Magazine, New Zealand Herald

Online version here

Young people need to be actively engaged in achieving their goals, which makes the current high levels of youth unemployment hazardous to their health.

How to include young people in the world of work is an increasing challenge across the planet. In parts of Europe more than 50 per cent of young people are unemployed, while here at home it is estimated 27 per cent of young Aucklanders are unemployed. 

In my earlier Element articles I talked about bringing Great Ideas to reality to achieve positive social change and the key elements required to make it happen.

Humans are naturally resistant to change – even when we know instinctively that change is needed for things to improve.  The issue of youth unemployment happens to be one of those issues that fall into this category. We know instinctively that it is better for young people to have ambitions and goals to work towards. It is better for their families. It is better for businesses to have young people being trained to take businesses into the next generation. It is better for society to have all our young people actively engaged in pursuing dreams and opportunities.

So, if we instinctively know it’s needed, how do we get from the status quo into a better place? Is now the time for society to be nudged into different frames of thinking and action?

Nudge Theory is a concept popularised by Richard Thaler, a prominent professor of Behavioural Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with the 2008 release of his book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Nudge is an idea based in behavioural science, political theory and economics which promotes the idea that people’s and business’ behaviour can be changed by positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions rather than by instruction, legislation or enforcement.

British, US and Australian governments have established various forms of “Nudge Units” looking at a variety of behavioural changes such as using Nudge to change business and corporate cultures to achieve a “zero accident culture”; encouraging breast feeding and improving fine and tax payments.

The most famous example of Nudge was the use by Aad Kieboom of attaching the image of a fly on the centre of urinals rather than putting up a sign requesting men to avoid peeing on the floor. Men’s aim dramatically improved and spillage plummeted by 80% on those urinals with the flies.

So, how can Nudge help youth unemployment?

The challenge with youth unemployment is that it is a shared problem with many players and varying interests - legislating or dictating changes simply won’t work.

One organisation that is taking the lead in tackling this challenge is Auckland Council. Over the past year, Council has adopted an innovative social change framework that positions them as a neutral broker and aggregator of the youth employment system; opening doors, connections and opportunities for young people and employers to work together.  This approach takes the bringing together of everyone affecting youth employment – including Central Government, business, youth services sector, education and local boards.

Despite that fact that its early days, a number of fantastic on-the-ground initiatives have already popped up across Auckland including job preparation workshops, free drivers’ licencing, summits for youth and businesses to connect and employer’s pledges to youth employment across Auckland.  

Borderless is currently working in partnership with Auckland Council to support the activation of a number of initiatives relating to youth employment across Auckland in the hope that a positive and supportive nudge will go a long way to helping Auckland achieve great social change for young people and businesses.

Youth are our Future.


We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.

Franklin D. Roosevelt


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