Pay us international rates please

To retain 'knowledge workers' in the 21st century, New Zealand companies will have to pay at international rates, HR bosses have been told.

To retain "knowledge workers" in the 21st century, New Zealand companies will have to pay at international rates, HR bosses have been told.

The audience at the annual conference of the New Zealand Human Resources Institute, held in Wellington earlier this month, also heard that the country had to stop its poverty-creating obsession with cutting costs and refocus on generating new sources of wealth and revenue.

Dr Andrew West, head of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, sees a future for New Zealand as a "gourmet" economy, offering space and lifestyle advantages to an overcrowded globe, including to "wealthy retirees in their 30s and 40s [who bring] heaps of capital".

The country could not compete with the computing and biological revolution of the northern hemisphere, he told the conference, which focused on IT and technology, and thus would have to shift from exporting commodities of ever-declining value to products and services, such as food, drinks, textiles, software, tourism and retirement services, "based on sophistication, performance and quality where science and technology are crucial".

However, such an economy would need "skilled knowledge workers" who already face competing attractions from Europe and Australia; where an ageing population is demanding young, skilled workers; or offers a clearly superior lifestyle. "They are not going to stay resident in New Zealand unless we meet their demands," says West.

New Zealand is vulnerable to losing young skilled workers because of a weak currency and student debt - just when the country needs more people of the right skills.

It is also difficult to retrain accountants, lawyers and other professionals to become engineers or biologists, West says, so the country will have to import and keep these knowledge workers against fierce competition. "We'll have to pay at international rates, provide renumeration in relation to the value created and share power," he says.

Companies will have to become more flexible, with workers having more power and managers becoming "managing partners". Incentives will be complex, there will be constant reskilling, and a company's value will depend more on the skills of its staff rather than its physical assets like a freezing works.

"The most profound change in our thinking as managers must be that, in the future, increasingly capital will work for labour and not, as it is now, the reverse. That shift in power means a massive shift in how businesses operate abnd a major shift in our roles.

"Our skills must include attraction and retention of knowledge workers; leadership and motivation, intelligent negotiation; a willingness to trust and a willingness to share; management of intellectual property; plus a subtle appreciation of some very complex shareholding arrangements," West says.

The conference also included speeches from IT Minister Paul Swain, and others from the US HR and IT sectors.

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