Can ‘safe’ NZ benefit from war and terror?

In a world of war and terrorism, New Zealand's reputation as a relative safe haven may bring economic dividends.

In a world of war and terrorism, New Zealand’s reputation as a relative safe haven may bring economic dividends.

Though it is still early days, already there seems to be an increase in Kiwis looking to return home and in others looking to emigrate here.

Working In: New Zealand, a publishing company which works with the New Zealand Immigration Service and New Zealand High Commission highlighting job opportunities in New Zealand, is reporting an increase in the number of Americans, particularly New Yorkers, using its website, and recruiters are detecting more interest from foreigners and New Zealanders working abroad.

The Working In website, which was set up four years ago by UK-born Hayley Roberts and her New Zealand partner Scott Mathieson after they worked as recruiters in London, claims around 30,000 unique visitors a month. The site, which also highlights IT and telecomms jobs in Australia, also attracts around 70 CVs from skilled Kiwis looking to return home or potential would-be emigrants, mainly from Britain, South Africa, the US and Asia, says Roberts. Organisations using the site for recruitment include Auckland Healthcare, Tait Electronics, Synergy, Ernst & Young, South Auckland Health and Prospect Southland.

Roberts says in the first week of October, 201 IT people used the site to apply for positions in New Zealand, about 35% of all applications received. But in January 2001, just before the dot-com crash, more than half of applications through the website were from IT professionals.

Roberts says the current downturn means IT workers are increasingly hanging on to good jobs and not shifting instead of previously touring the world on the back of their IT skills during the former boom.

However, that may be changing after the events of September 11. In the week starting August 20 the site had 7568 unique users, 17.9% were from all of the US and 1.6% were from New York. For the week starting September 24, with 7731 unique users, 19.5% came from all of the US but 2.7% were from New York.

Roberts is reluctant to blame this on the terrorist attack, but thinks “with the world feeling unstable, people will want to remain where they are and with their nearest and dearest”.

Kiwi recruiters report similar impressions.

Brian Powell of Spherion reports a slight increase in interest from emigrant Kiwis looking to come home, particularly from the US. However, he credits that more on declining job opportunities abroad, particularly in contracting, rather than from terrorism.

Ross Turner of Pinnacle says there is no influx of returning Kiwis yet, but more are showing interest in the job situation here.

“There are a lot of Kiwis offshore that would come home if the work was here. Arguably, at present, it is not. At this point, the situation is not dire for them personally either in the US, UK or Europe and a move home would have serious economic considerations,” he says.

Craig Parson of Icon says a “dead” UK IT market is bringing some “very strongly sought after” skills to New Zealand. September 11 also “put the wind up” many Kiwi migrants abroad, he says, and foreigners on working holidays here are relieved to be in New Zealand.

“Many have suggested that perhaps they’d be better off relocating here permanently,” he says.

However, the New Zealand IT market has difficulties, says ITANZ, though our market should perform better than others. Analysts IDC still expect it to grow this year.

In Australia, where I happened to be last weekend, the situation appears far more serious than here, at least in IT. Analysts and other industry people I spoke to in Sydney were even speculating over a few beers which IT firms might fold. With the larger Australian economy more tied to the US than ours, the renewed downturn in the US will impact even more over the Tasman, they argued. New Zealand’s relative economic isolation and smaller IT industry will lessen the impact here as, after all, people still need to eat our meat and dairy products.

Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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