Brain drain is business' fault

I've seen a lot of press in recent weeks about something we've been writing about for years - the brain drain.

I've seen a lot of press in recent weeks about something we've been writing about for years - the brain drain. Ten thousand of our brightest and best young folk (also known as "yoof") have fled our shores in search of greener pastures.

It's the fault of government, a shock and a surprise to big business and an appalling state of affairs. Government must do something, they shout. How can we run our businesses if all the young people are working in Britain and Australia?

I've got news for you - it's not government's fault, it's yours.

I know it's not fashionable to point the finger at business as being responsible for anything ("let the market decide!") but quite frankly I'm sick of the whining (and I'm a Pom - I know whining). Sure, government plays a role, but not as important a one as business.

This is not a new phenomenon. Young people have been leaving New Zealand for decades. New Zealanders are the world's greatest travellers, so they say. It's true - there isn't a country on the planet where you won't find a small pocket of black-shirt clad Kiwis running about saying "she'll be right" and "you get that on the big jobs" and all those other things they'd never say back home. Get used to it.

The big change that I see is the length of time these Kiwis stay away. They're out of the country longer and there's one good reason for that. The pay and working conditions in Britain, the US, Europe and even Australia are much, much better. Sure, the cost of living can be high - petrol in the UK is now pushing the $3 a litre mark - but the hidden benefits are great.

Five weeks paid holiday a year. More public holidays. A pension plan that the company pays into at the same rate you do. Maybe fully paid health insurance on top. What does the average New Zealand employee get? Three weeks' leave, five days' sick leave, and be glad you've got a job.

A friend of mine in Sydney was appalled when I told him we don't get a "moving house" day off. He moved house about the same time I did and was given a paid day off to do it in. I took a leave day. We went on holiday together - he was paid extra for his holiday pay because that's just the way they do it in Australia. I got my regular pay.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining about my job in particular. I enjoy my work and choose to be here. I like the lifestyle - the Coromandel is just over there, I can ski on a volcano and I can drink Marlborough wine quite cheaply. But other people have worked through the same information and come to a different conclusion: a more financially sound one. After so many years in tertiary education, why work in New Zealand when I can earn half as much again, or double, or triple, in a foreign country where I am valued? Add to that the fact that back home there's a huge debt waiting for me, and why would I stay here?

My flatmate Georgie is just about to become a teacher. She has a student debt in the tens of thousands of dollars. Last month I read the UK is crying out for teachers and offering to pay removal costs and a higher wage for any Kiwi teachers who go over for a year-long contract. Between the lifestyle (get paid for your OE) and the lousy pay level teachers get here, they're having no trouble filling their quota.

The crux of it is this: workers have joined the global economy. I can check current job listings in Australia, the US, Britain, Germany or Canada at the click of a mouse. It's the work of a moment to compare pay, working conditions and cost of living for any jobs. We have been told for years that we have to be more fiscally responsible - we have to save for our retirement, we have to think about our spending. We are blamed for everything from the weak dollar to the trade imbalance, it seems. We aren't stupid. They've learned that the one overriding factor in any business decision they make must be money.

So forget about lifestyle and patriotism, go with the cash. There's really only one way to compete with that. I wonder whether New Zealand business can stop blaming everyone else for its problems long enough to work out what it is.

Paul Brislen is a Computerworld journalist. He can be contacted at paul-brislen@idg.co.nz. Letters for publication should be sent to cw-letters@idg.co.nz.

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