As the New Zealand population becomes more ethnically diverse, that change is reflected in the workforce. In 1986, 88% of workers recorded a European ethnicity as one of their ethnic groups; by 2006, this had fallen to 69%. In 1986 Māori comprised 8% of the workforce but by 2006 this had increased to 11%. The strongest growth has been among Asians, from 3% in 1986 to 8% in 2006.
It has become increasingly common for people to identify with more than one ethnicity, and this is also reflected in the workforce. From the early years of colonial settlement there was intermarriage between European settlers and Māori. Sometimes inter-ethnic marriage was associated with specific occupations and industries, such as the Māori–Chinese community associated with market gardening in the early 20th century.
Ethnicity and age
In the early 2000s a much higher proportion of workers in younger age groups identify themselves as Māori, Pacific or Asian. For example in 2006, in the 20–24 age group, Māori made up 15% of the workforce, Pacific people 7% and Asians 13%. In contrast, in the 60–64 age group, Māori made up only 7% of workers, Pacific people 2% and Asian people 3%.
In 2006 the Auckland region, which had the highest proportion of residents born overseas and the greatest diversity of ethnic groups, also reported the highest proportion of people able to speak two or more languages. In the working-age population, almost half of overseas-born people were multilingual, compared with 10% of New Zealand-born people. While some New Zealand businesses were using the non-English language skills of workers, this resource was not yet fully tapped.