US vacuum threatens Kiwi IT talent pool

The booming US economy could suck up New Zealand's IT workforce 'like a large vacuum cleaner', Kiwi employment specialists say.

The booming US economy could suck up New Zealand's IT workforce "like a large vacuum cleaner", Kiwi employment specialists say.

The US Department of Commerce recently reported that the country will need 1.3 million new IT workers by 2006 - double the number of high-tech workers currently employed.

Now, following appeals by IT industry leaders, Congress in Washington DC is debating how it can let in more foreign workers, including those from New Zealand.

Clear Communications human resources director Peter Merry says labour shortages in the US are so severe that in just a couple of years US firms will probably come into New Zealand seeking IT staff.

"You can hear a sound like a large vacuum cleaner as talent is sucked up to their booming economy," he says.

Enterprise consultant Barry O'Brien says he has a US client that will take all the C++ developers he can find.

O'Brien says the US government will give them work visas and the companies give $5000 relocation allowances, a car and housing initially, plus a starting salary of $US55,000.

"The fact that the US government is making it easier for them to go in is going to have a vacuuming effect," he says.

On the other hand, says O'Brien, relatively high labour and other costs in the US are encouraging US firms to set up here. He cites Intel creating 100 jobs at a New Zealand development centre.

"New Zealand still has plusses like a diverse IT economy and good lifestyle, and when the northern [hemisphere] economy slows down, more should come here," he says.

IT Futures manager David Newick agrees that countries like the US present "a real threat to New Zealand".

"New Zealand has some obvious lifestyle advantages but there will always be those attracted by the money," he says.

Labour Minister Margaret Wilson says New Zealand retaining skilled workers is one of the most common issues raised as she travels the country.

Wilson says safer and more attractive workplaces will help the country keep workers; and modern apprenticeships and better industry training should help ease skill shortages.

The new Employment Relations Bill giving more power to unions will also help, she says.

"They empower workers and and allow their views to be expressed. They balance the power and influence of the wealthy and allow the dignity of all work to be recognised.

"By bringing all these elements together, New Zealand can begin constructing a labour market strategy which will mean the problem will be handling the number of skilled and expert people wanting to come here - not the number of similar New Zealanders going overseas to work in other economies," she says.

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