Kiwi ‘brain drain’ misses top management

The "brain drain" overseas appears to be missing New Zealand information technology managers. For front-line staff, it appears to be a different story. A Computerworld 1000 poll of 30 IT managers at New Zealand's larger companies found only three respondents who had been personally approached about working overseas. But nearly half reported having staff wooed by overseas companies.

The “brain drain” overseas appears to be missing New Zealand information technology managers. For front-line staff, it appears to be a different story.

A Computerworld 1000 poll of 30 IT managers at New Zealand’s larger companies found only three respondents who had been personally approached about working overseas.

Frontline IT staff are in demand, however. Thirteen of the 30 respondents said someone from their company had been approached to work overseas, mostly in Europe or the US.

Programmer and NZ PC World columnist Geoff Palmer left New Zealand in May for the UK and took two-and-a-half weeks to find a job. He had three job offers from five interviews, and although he has now been working for six weeks he is still being chased by potential employers.

He says the skills most in demand are CICS, Cobol and DB2, while business analysts and people with any Microsoft certifications are also sought. “At a rough guess I’d say I have around 20 friends and former colleagues from the industry over here at the moment.”

He says most are in their early to mid-30s and for many it’s a return visit rather than their first overseas experience. “Many have property back in New Zealand and see a trip to Blighty as a quick way of paying off the mortgage.”

One IT manager, who did not wish to be named, blames the attitude of senior management for the brain drain. “IT is still seen as an expense rather than an asset.” He knows of a number of IT managers who have left New Zealand for countries where they “feel appreciated” for the work they do. “Companies invest as little as they can get away with but expect to get a lot out of it.”

New Zealand IT managers seem to be a loyal lot — 26 respondents claimed they had not been “actively looking” for overseas positions in the past year.

Brett Cook, IT manager for shipping specialists P&O Nedlloyd, has a different approach to the idea of brain drain. “We have a secondment scheme that allows us to travel around the world without having all the hassles.” Cook has been paid to travel to Europe and work there for P&O, and hasn’t felt the need to look for jobs elsewhere.

“I’ve got two guys overseas at the moment. It means they get to scratch the travel itch and we don’t lose their services.” Cook also believes many IT specialists aren’t in the job for the money but rather for the challenge, something they can get here in New Zealand, along with a high standard of living.

Palmer agrees, saying New Zealand companies can’t match the money being offered overseas but can do other things. “The company I’m working for, for example, must have the highest proportion of women of any DP [data processing] shop I’ve ever seen. Most are married with kids and the company is very flexible in its working arrangements to accommodate them — flexi-time, working from home, part-time work during school hours.”

Overall, however, the view of the brain drain problem is that it’s getting worse. One manager claimed that many New Zealand companies were too small for their staff to be poached by an overseas agency and that most moved up the ladder to a larger employer before making the leap overseas. The figures tend to agree with that point of view — eight respondents felt the situation hadn’t changed much, another eight had no opinion, while everyone else felt it was worse.

Palmer does sound a note a caution for would-be migrants. “Be quick. Signs of an economic slow-down are beginning to emerge over here — reduced consumer spending, falling exports and a levelling off of house prices.”

He says that in broad terms, full-time work will pay between £25,000 and £35,000 a year, with contracting paying between £50,000 and £100,000.

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