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'Skills army' mobilises to help home workers

Some volunteers have helped upskill people with software such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom to help them work remotely .

Other businesses are getting advice on budgeting or claiming Government subsidies.

The HelpTank website, part of the Who Did You Help Today? charitable trust, is matching volunteers to projects.

It has hundreds of volunteers who can help with IT or more lengthy support in other fields.

Trust founder, Stacey Shortall, said there was a broad range of skills available.

"For example, needing to identify are they eligible for some of the support packages that have been announced by the Government, if so, how do they apply for those?" she said.

"Business with multiple employees, what do they need to decide around staffing and employment? Are there rental issues, leasing arrangements, insurance they need to turn their minds to?"

Some business owners were finding that bewildering - and existing volunteers with HelpTank found they had more spare time to help as they could not work or were working from home, she said.

"We've got a pretty good range of skills," said Shortall. "A lot of people with commercial business backgrounds themselves so who are good at identifying what are the issues that a small business needs to tackle. How do you prioritise those?

"I could spend 20 or 30 minutes on the phone with someone just walking them through the process - go to the government website, open a new browser box in the corner, click there, just walking people through it.

"We've got people who are fluent in working with online materials and applications so could help some small businesses where English might be a second language or where people aren't used to so frequently working with a lot of written material or online materials.

"We've got people with accounting qualifications, legal qualifications that can help. And some people in the mental well being space to work more on the counselling or therapeutic side."

People working from home with unfamiliar software or programmes have been asking for help, she said.

"We had some people coming to us and saying I'm still working but all of a sudden they are having to join meetings through Zoom or having to use Microsoft Teams or other bits of IT to continue with their job.

"Some organisations have been able to explain that to their staff, but some people are struggling a little bit with that.

"And lots of families around the country who are now trying to use technology to connect to a older family member or people who ordinarily didn't communicate that way.

"I'm really optimistic that the younger generation, who are very savvy with those sort of things, might be volunteering through HelpTank to share some of their skills."

The connection platform, which usually helps charities and good causes find volunteers for a project, had already opened up coronavirus help for those in self-isolation. but when the country went into full lockdown, organisers turned their attention to small businesses and staff starting to work from home.

Shortall is hopeful that some good is coming out of a bad situation.

"I think New Zealanders are unique in our willingness to pitch in and help, I think that's a really cool part of who we are and I'm really optimistic that we can through this technology platform, get more people connected and helping," she said.

"Where people may be a feeling a little helpless in the wake of this, sometimes the individuals that get helped are not just the small businesses, or individuals who are a bit more isolated - it's actually the people who want to give their time.

"They're the ones being helped because they feel like they are contributing and trying to fight this thing that otherwise seems to be overwhelming in our country and globe at this point."

More details can be found at HelpTank

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