Education a major issue for future of NZ

A friend of mine left for Sydney last week. He feels despondent about the country's future and wonders if it is on the right track.

A friend of mine left for Sydney last week.

He feels despondent about the country's future and wonders if it is on the right track.

But before the Business Roundtable gets ready to poke its finger at the Labour government, my mate is tired of this country's low wages (even for skilled people) and he also experienced much of neo-feudalistic management practices encouraged by the former Employment Contract Act. Furthermore, his new job pays double what he earned and offers a bigger company car, so you can hardly blame him for going.

However, immigration is a two-way street. A Pommy flatmate dearly hopes his girlfriend also falls in love with New Zealand when she visits in the new year. He is a skilled auto-electrician, his girlfriend a health specialist - skills this country dearly needs - so let’s hope for fine weather here in February.

Certainly those Brits could do with some sunshine. But if you can paddle your way through their streets, find some petrol, or an operational bus or train, there is much work to be had in the UK, and at amazing wages.

Some weeks back, I asked for people looking to work overseas to send in their details and I would pass them on to overseas job agencies to assess what they are worth. It appears that for applicants with the right skills, the world is their oyster.

Just days after our appeal for overseas “What am I Worths”, I received an email from Marianna Romanoff in New York. She works for a recruitment firm in New York and offered me $US1000 for each successful Kiwi job applicant I could find her. Some $US500 would be paid when the applicant started work, the remainder after three months, once they settle in. Feel free to contact her at, but don't forget to say I sent you. I could do with the money.

A trawl around the internet reveals similar stories worldwide - countries are crying out for skilled workers. New Zealand needs them but they are heading off to higher paid Australia and the UK. Canada needs them, but they are heading off to higher paid America. Europe and America need them, and are easing work rules to let them in. And poor old India finds it is struggling to keep the IT workers it needs to develop its economy.

Our government has just staged its business summits - one for its business chums, the other for the e-commerce crowd. At last, Labour apparently realises it must work with business rather than against it. R&D tax breaks could be just what industry needs to create the much-vaunted knowledge economy. It would also stop business carping so much and talking the country into decline. Business should accept that Labour had a mandate to scrap the Employment Contracts Act, though I think renationalising ACC was just purely ideological. IT minister Paul Swain's heart seems in the right place and, who knows, we may even discover Helen Clark has one.

Education and immigration have become major economic issues. We have to consider if a "user pays" higher education system is still appropriate when the country has to ensure it has the right skilled workers to survive. Of course, there's nothing worse than the taxpayer educating somebody just for them to leave, but the current loans system seems to be fuelling the exodus, or at least giving the kids justification to their parents for fleeing the country. The issue of student loans, grants, graduate income taxes, etc should certainly be revisited.

One newspaper last weekend lamented skill shortages in the forestry industry, which now uses much information technology. Tree production is about to explode and thousands of technically skilled workers are needed to harvest them, enough even to wipe out unemployment in parts of the depressed north and east of the North Island.

However, training, education and employment has been so stop-start in recent years, we don't have enough skilled workers to do the work. They are having to come in from Fiji and elsewhere, while thousands of locals languish on the dole. A crazy state of affairs. Decent training schemes are surely less costly than paying dole and dealing with unemployment's associated social problems.

Whatever happens, New Zealand seems to be at a major crossroads. Not only is it a question of whether we can regain our relative prosperity, but whether we can remain an economically independent country.

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