ICT employers slow to hire migrants: survey

Companies are struggling with acute staff shortage but are still reluctant to employ migrants, says Hudson's report

Many New Zealand companies are reluctant to hire migrants or non-traditional workers such as part-time parents or older workers, according to recruitment consultancy Hudson’s employment and HR trends report for July to December 2006.

The report says that on the one hand, companies are struggling with an acute shortage of skilled staff and on the other, they are reluctant to employ migrants.

“It would appear that there [are] still very traditional expectations around employees,” says Campbell Hepburn, national practice manager of Hudson IT&T.

The reluctance to employ migrants relates to the challenges employers find when employing international talent, for example in areas such as management, language and culture, he says. Many employers expect international staff to be “New Zealand-ised”, he says.

“It is unfortunate because a staggering number of immigrants [leave] the country every week, [because] they have had bad workplace experience,” he says.

According to predictions made by the Department of Labour, by 2021, one quarter of the workforce will be overseas-born. Today, eight in ten workers are Pakeha New Zealanders, but by 2021 only two in three will be, says the Hudson report.

“Between now and then, we need to have a real mind-shift around how open we are to non-traditional talent pools,” says Hepburn.

New Zealand companies need to realise they have to employ foreign workers, says Garth Biggs, executive director of the HiGrowth Project.

“All too often we hear about people with Asian names being rejected out of hand for jobs, even second generation New Zealanders. Companies just aren’t very good at dealing with the issue of immigrant workers,” Biggs told Computerworld late last month.

According to Hudson’s report, which is based on interviews with 1,705 employers across New Zealand, eight out of ten employers believe there are barriers to migrants participating successfully in the local workforce. Nearly 80% of the IT employers interviewed believe that barriers exist for migrants working or seeking work in New Zealand, compared with around 65% of telecommunications employers.

Hudson recruitment managers find that even when candidates have been screened for technical skills and other skills, such as language and work ethic, employers are still concerned about cultural barriers, says the report.

One way of dealing with the cultural barrier issue is for companies to offer formal or informal induction programmes. However, the report concludes that less than a quarter of the employers interviewed offer such programmes.

If IT companies are reluctant to hire migrants, key projects may fail because of the acute skills shortage, says Bridget Cooksley, a Wellington-based Hudson IT recruitment consultant, in the report. She adds that companies that have had success in employing one migrant might tap into a whole new pool of talent through that person’s network.

Besides language and cultural barriers, employers are also worried about employing migrants who might leave in a relatively short time frame, says Hepburn. There is also a risk that New Zealand doesn’t fulfil expectations of immigrants and that they will return to their home country, he says.

Contrary to the findings of Hudson’s report, two other recruitment agencies that Computerworld spoke to don’t find local companies reluctant to employ migrants or non-traditional workers.

“Around 50% of our placements would be from migrants,” says Ashley Sadler, IT recruitment manager of Enterprise Recruitment. “And, really, there is no reluctance at all to employ migrants. There is a reluctance to employ people that don’t have the prerequisite English language speaking skills. [But] we very rarely come across cultural barriers.”

Sadler finds that there is an understanding and acknowledgement in the industry that migrants bring in skills which are hard to find within New Zealand.

An IT recruiter from another local recruitment agency, who declined to be named, says there are no problems at all employing someone from overseas as long as the candidate is on the skills shortage list and is serious about settling in New Zealand. She says her clients are less worried about cultural barriers and more worried about employing Generation Y staff.

Hudson’s report also found that the IT sector has the most positive outlook of increasing staff levels. While the survey showed an overall positive net effect of 36% — arrived at by subtracting the proportion of respondents who expected a decrease in their staff levels from those who expected an increase — the IT companies that participated in the report showed a positive net effect of 54.1%, more than for any other sector.

“That optimism has been quite prevalent for the last couple of years, but the gap between [the IT sector] and other sectors [surveyed] is probably what surprised a lot of people,” says Hepburn.

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