Brain gain brings new talent to New Zealand

Brain drain might turn into brain gain as the number of skilled migrants grows

The Department of Labour will be hunting for skilled workers willing to move to New Zealand at CeBIT, the world’s largest ICT trade fair, which takes place in Hanover in mid-March.

The New Zealand pavilion will showcase innovative local technologies, as well as promoting the Kiwi lifestyle and providing practical migration information and employer contacts.

“Around 10% of CeBIT’s 400,000 visitors will be looking at employment opportunities, and from our perspective we are trying to ensure that people know there are opportunities in New Zealand in the IT sector,” says Richard Ninness, communications and marketing director at Department of Labour.

Ninness says that there simply aren’t enough people with the required skills in the New Zealand IT sector. The Department of Labour’s long-term skills shortages list identifies important skill sets and helps employers to recruit migrants quickly. Jobs on the list include design engineer, project manager, electronic technician, systems analyst, computer application engineer, programmer and solutions architect, says Ninness.

The good news is that the number of migrants coming to work in New Zealand is increasing, according to the Department of Labour’s migration trends report, released in December 2005. In 2004/05, 82,500 people were issued work permits – up 12% from the previous year.

Of the 48,815 people approved for residence in 2004/05, 23,854 were approved under the Skilled Migrant Category, a programme designed to meet the needs of New Zealand businesses.

Eighty-seven per cent of accepted skilled migrants in 2004/05 had a job offer of skilled employment in New Zealand. Two-thirds of these were specialised in an area of immediate or long-term skill shortage. Areas of long term shortage include health and ICT, whereas the immediate shortage list includes IT specialists, construction managers, farm managers and builders, among others.

The Department of Labour does not have a target for how many migrants it’s hoping to attract through the initiative at CeBIT, but Ninness says the cost of not being at an event like CeBIT should be part of the equation as much as the direct gains out of it.

Götz Rieger, a German Linux consultant, has been with IT infrastructure provider Open Systems Specialists (OSS) in Auckland for a month. Once he and his wife had made the decision to relocate from Hanover to New Zealand, he turned to the internet to find a potential employer. “I’m pretty specialised in my field of work, so I had a look around for companies that do what I do,” he says.

He contacted OSS. Within two days OSS replied. Within a month Rieger had a contract.

“It was fairly easy to get a work permit in New Zealand,” he says. “It only took two weeks to come through.”

Ian Soffe, director at OSS, says that nearly half of the company’s staff is international.

“The skills shortage is definitely a problem in New Zealand, but for OSS it is not a problem,” he says. “We are lucky to be in a position where both local and international people of calibre find us, and come to work for us.”

Rieger says that from a technical point of view, his work environment in Auckland is not that different from that in Hanover. But life outside work is different. “It is amazing to have the opportunity to live in a country that is a dream holiday country for many Europeans,” he says.

Orion Systems, provider of clinical workflow and integration technology for the healthcare sector, is about to break the $50 million-a-year revenue mark. The Auckland-based company has offices in the US, Australia and Canada, and is currently setting up offices in the UK and Spain. The company also plans to set up an office in Japan.

“We expect to grow 50% in the next 12 months and we will be employing a lot of people,” says Orion CEO Ian McCrae.

He says that Orion had 50 vacancies around the world just a couple of months ago, but nearly all positions are filled now. A lot of staff are taken straight from university, and Orion encourages employees who want to go overseas to work for the company rather than lose them.

“We also have people from overseas that come to work for us in New Zealand,” says Megan Tobin-Jones, communications manager at Orion. “We’ve got IT professionals on board from ... the UK, China, Singapore and India.”

“The shortage of skilled labour in New Zealand is something we all should be aware of,” she continues. “We are constantly on the look-out for quality developers and project managers, and that is always a challenge, but it is not a huge problem for us. I think it will always be a challenge to make sure you have got the right people.”

The Skilled Migrant Category programme was changed in December 2004, making a larger number of skilled migrants available to meet the demands of the labour market, according to the Department of Labour.

“While pressure is easing on employers, the labour market remains tight and skill shortages are still acute,” Immigration Minister David Cunliffe said in late December last year: “The increase of new migrants to fill job vacancies will help employers needing to recruit skilled workers from overseas for their business growth.”

The UK tops the list of applicants granted New Zealand work permits, followed by China, Japan, USA, India and Germany. The highest proportion, 49%, of migrants approved through the Skilled Migrant Category, are from the UK.

A recent survey among employers that have hired migrants under the Skilled Migrant Category shows that 81% are impressed with the performance of their migrant staff. More than half, 56%, say their business has benefited more from employing a migrant than it would have from employing a New Zealander. The reasons for this are the migrant’s ability to contribute to an organisation’s knowledge and growth, to raise the level of expertise within an organisation, and to contribute with innovative practises.

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