Tugging the brain drain plug

September 11 showed the lifestyle benefits of New Zealand's splendid isolation and helped cause an upsurge in immigration and returnees. B

September 11 showed the lifestyle benefits of New Zealand’s splendid isolation and helped cause an upsurge in immigration and returnees. But economic and other realities seem to have evened out those benefits and anecdotal evidence suggests the plug may have again loosened on the “brain drain”.

Stephen O’Rourke, who maintains websites for Outward Bound in Wellington, went to the UK in 1994 as a consultant and went into project management for a HR software firm before running his own graphic and website design business in Cambridge. He came home for a family Christmas in 2000 and while here saw a job advertised that he liked.

O’Rourke, a certified engineer, says people who have worked overseas are more “holistic”; travel has enabled them to take more risks, accept bigger challenges and see the larger picture. But will they want to say in New Zealand for the long term, he asks.

O’Rourke says Wellington has become more cosmopolitan since he went overseas, but working conditions are now more intense and less flexible — though not to the degree in the UK. The 27-year-old enjoys the outdoor life here, particularly the surfing at Lyall Bay. But O’Rourke admits he often hankers after a return to Britain. He misses the “hustle and bustle” and being able to travel quickly and cheaply with the discount airlines to Europe and the US.

Email has proved a lifesaver for him to keep in touch with UK-based friends. Some he is even trying to lure here to work, though he says it isn’t easy for them to gain permits and visas.

Nancy Riordan works in Auckland for Theta Systems as an Oracle financials consultant. She returned home recently after two years of similar work in London because she wanted a better lifestyle, to be close to her family and enjoy New Zealand’s outdoor life. “I like it here. Auckland is great [but] the money is not as good,” Riordan says.

She has advice for companies looking to employ recent returnees: check their experience. “In the UK, you are pigeonholed into your little box, but you get to do bigger projects. You do not get that here as the companies aren’t big enough,” she says. “I think you have to work harder here. You are expected to be more multiskilled [in New Zealand].”

Riordan says the drivers sending people overseas are desire for work experience, more opportunities, higher incomes and a different culture. The Auckland University graduate says she still likes travelling, and may try Australia next time. Some of her friends still also have the travel bug.

“What happens is you get people going over when they are younger. They spend three to six years, earn money, they see Europe, but then they want to have children and settle. That draws them back to New Zealand and the lifestyle. If you want theatre and shopping, you stay in the UK,” Riordan says.

In further evidence of the itchy-feet syndrome, Wellington-based IT new-recruits organisation Young IT reports the OE is as popular as ever. The group says a lot of interest was shown in a promotion it staged recently about working overseas.

Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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