ICT hiring slows, but remains upbeat in Christchurch

The recession is affecting IT in the South Island less than other industries

Jade Software CEO Craig Richardson says the Christchurch-based software company is seeing greater interest in positions advertised.

“Across the board in new hires, we’re regularly seeing better quality candidates and more candidates.”

Applications from the North Island and overseas are also up, Richardson says, with Australian and other international students applying for graduate positions.

As to what’s driving the greater interest in jobs at Jade, “there’s nervousness out there, especially in the larger IT companies, with the downsizing message that has come from their overseas parents”.

Nonetheless, finding the right talent isn’t a breeze, even in today’s economic climate.

“Quality developers are always difficult to find,” he says.

“We have quite high expectations, so quality is still a challenge.”

Jade is looking for employees with more than just technical know-how, Richardson says.

“Customers are now looking to us to be a source of their innovation, as they’re going through difficult times.

“They want us to provide solutions and also the next phase of growth.

“We’re actively asking, ‘How do we meet our customers’ needs, going forward’?”

That requires skills beyond what was needed in the past, he says.

“It requires people with an understanding of specific industry sectors. We need people with the capability to get a deep understanding of what customers need.

“It goes beyond specifications and building software – we want people who are capable of building strong relationships with customers and who can solve their bigger issues,” Richardson says.

Kevin Russell, Hudson’s Christchurch ICT manager, says IT is “still one of the busier areas” of employment in the South Island.

“From a Christchurch perspective, there have been some sizeable projects on the go that were started 12-18 months ago and we’re seeing them continue,” Russell says.

“Some of the bigger players in the market have been going through system changes and projects. That’s kept IT going, compared to other areas.”

However, IT is being affected to some degree, he says.

“We’ve been insulated, but we’re starting to see a slowdown now – we’re seeing increasing numbers of candidates.”

Another factor helping IT avoid the worst of the recession is a maturing attitude by management towards IT. This is reflected in a shift from it being seen as a cost, to being viewed as an enabler of efficiencies, Russell says.

“Companies are trying to realise efficiencies and IT is a way of doing that.

“Projects with that goal in mind are going ahead. IT has traditionally been an easy area to cut, and Christchurch has a lot of SMBs where the CFO has been focused on reducing IT costs, not on achieving efficiencies through IT.

“Now, IT has come of age and people are realising it’s a way of reducing costs and allowing businesses to function more efficiently.”

As a software development centre, Christchurch benefits when the New Zealand dollar is low, he says.

“Offshore companies have put money into development. There have been some projects, even in small shops, that have brought contractors out recently.”

While the dollar has rallied of late, “if it declines again to the low point of the past few weeks, that will make people think about where they spend R&D dollars”, he says.

In the coming 12 months, “Christchurch and the South Island will still see ongoing projects. Some suppliers of outsourced solutions still seem to be busy and are hiring”.

Nonetheless, “we’ll see a scaling back and there will be more candidates in the market.

“We’ll see more contractors and permanent employees looking for jobs”, he says.

“We’ve seen a squeeze on pay rates and salaries.”

Though overall, the outlook isn’t that gloomy.

“Christchurch has been a centre for IT and employs a lot of people in that area. We won’t see that diminish over the next 12 months.”

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