Out of Africa, into New Zealand IT

IT recruiter David Palmer received something of an education during a recent recruitment drive in South Africa - one of New Zealand's top sources of IT workers.

IT recruiter David Palmer received something of an education during a recent recruitment drive in South Africa — one of New Zealand’s top sources of IT workers.

Palmer’s agency, De Winter International, regularly holds recruitment fairs with overseas partners, sorting out the paperwork and other logistics associated with emigration.

Palmer found the trip to South Africa fascinating, though he came across several issues he believes no employer can ignore, including the consequences of the loss of technical and management skills and the issue of “affirmative action”.

South Africa, he says, has a full range of IT services, with skilled staff often having large-scale expertise and experience not available in New Zealand. “Just by the size of the industry, it means there are simply more specialists like C++ developers and [database administrators] available.”

Palmer expected to find people flocking to leave, but many weren’t. “They have built an amazing country and are very proud of it”. South Africans are willing, he says, to put up with the country’s high crime rate, AIDS epidemic and “collapsing infrastructure” almost as blithely as Aucklanders put up with increasing traffic. “Unemployment is probably around 50%. This is, of course, a guess, as publishing such figures is illegal,” he says. “There is no unemployment benefit in South Africa. If you [are unemployed and] want to eat, you have to beg or steal. There are millions of people living in old packing crates in squatter camps.”

For Kiwi employers, though, South Africans are motivated workers with a European-type attitude to quality standards, work ethic and morality, he says. Some can get homesick for family, however, and De Winter usually advises these “at risk” would-be emigrants to stay in South Africa.

Although New Zealand is home to many South Africans already, we have not yet seen any mass exodus, Palmer says. A future Robert Mugabe-type figure in South Africa could drive such an exodus, he says, but many South Africans have nowhere to go. Nevertheless, he says most are happy to get on with life, hardly thinking about emigration to other countries, despite the problems. He says one South African likened it to putting a frog into hot water. “Drop it in, it will hop right out. However, drop the frog in cold water and heat it slowly, the frog may even enjoy it for a while. But not noticing the increase in temperature, it will quite happily boil to death.”

The country remains “incredibly wealthy” with fine roads, full shops and new buildings and other developments, but he says the falling value of the rand and affirmative action “are taking their toll”.

Palmer believes there is a massive de-skilling of the workforce happening through affirmative action. He claims blacks are often appointed to jobs regardless of qualifications and experience and government work is being awarded to black-owned companies, rather than to the best provider.

“I am sure this approach is aimed to lift the plight of the black majority. However, the effect long term is probably going to be the opposite. Without skilled people to run the infrastructure, the country is slowly collapsing.”

Despite such government policies, Palmer says people appear to get on well, accepting and understanding the many different cultures. “There is more racial tension to be found in everyday downtown Queen Street than everyday downtown South Africa,” he says.

On the other side of the coin, Kiwis considering working in South Africa may find affirmative action counts against them, though the country has many Indians working on contract in the IT industry, says Palmer.

The South African government website, documents the country has “limited work opportunities” and consequently “no special drive” to attract people. But work permits may be issued if South Africans cannot fill a job or be trained for it, and the employer can prove this.

However, from a tourist perspective, its scenery, nature, history and diversity of life, South Africa is a “must visit”, says Palmer. Even the Kiwi dollar goes a long way and most people speak or understand English.

“The South Africans are very proud of what they have accomplished. If there was a future there, my pick is that New Zealanders would be migrating there, rather than South Africans coming here. There is a lot to be learnt from South Africa and South Africans. There is no question that we will, over the coming years, benefit broadly from South African migration.”

Darren Greenwood is Computerworld’s HR reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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