INSIGHT: Is Waikato / BOP region fast becoming a tech hotspot?

“Watch out Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.”

When you think of New Zealand’s innovative tech sector, Waikato and Bay of Plenty might not be the first place that pops to mind.

But with the global growth of Kiwi technology, even the smaller regions are prospering.

So says the latest Absolute IT survey of tech professionals and employers from Waikato and Bay of Plenty, which paints a promising picture of the region and its thriving tech sector.

According to the latest Absolute IT survey of Waikato and Bay of Plenty tech professionals, 90 percent of workers believe their current workplace is a good place to be, the highest reported figure of all the main regions in New Zealand.

“Watch out Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch,” says Brian Bernard, Regional Manager, Absolute IT.

“The region’s happy tech work environment can also been seen in the significant decrease (since 2014) in the number of tech professionals considering a move to a new IT job.

“This figure is down 21 percent, with only 54 percent of employees considering a job move this year.

“This figure is 13 percent lower than the national average, so highlights the great work local employers are doing, listening to what their staff want and delivering innovative projects and cheerful, healthy workplaces.”

The recent Westpac’s 2015 Grow New Zealand Survey also goes further to explain this trend, according to Bernard.

The survey shows that 30 percent of SMEs in New Zealand saw positive upward growth in the last year.

The small figures are in part due to SME owners’ focus on maintaining a good work-life balance for themselves and their employees.

At the time, Westpac CEO David McLean said the prospects were “looking good” for SMEs in the coming year but “for many SMEs the improved conditions are the cream on the lifestyle cake rather than looking to grow or expand.”

So what does this mean for tech job seekers living in the region, or considering a move?

“Waikato and Bay of Plenty can offer you better flexibility and employers who understand that moving to the regions isn’t just about working yourself to the bone to get ahead,” Bernard adds.

Interestingly for Bernard, the latest Absolute IT survey shows that 86 percent of tech professionals in the Waikato /Bay of Plenty region believe their work-life balance is either average or above.

“It looks like tech professionals are not only happy at work, but really are able to maintain a great balance between, work, family, social and fun,” Bernard adds.

Innovation generating IT jobs

“While work-life balance is important, this doesn’t drive work happiness alone,” Bernard adds.

“Tech professionals need innovation, new projects and growth to really be happy and the Waikato and Bay of Plenty region also delivers this in spades.”

The Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) held a recent national conference in Tauranga.

Bernard says the IITP selected Tauranga as the 2013 venue because they identified the region as having one of the strongest growing clusters of ICT innovation in New Zealand.

Furthermore, the latest Absolute IT findings show the local tech environment is set to continue to grow throughout 2015, with 86 percent of tech employers planning to recruit additional staff/contractors, up seven percent on 2014 figures.

Interestingly while ‘new projects’ continues to be the top motivation for hiring, Bernard says ‘increased customer demand’ has jumped 16 percent since 2014 to 23 percent – another signal of the exciting tech sector development happening in the region.

Bernard says the region is home to some exciting tech projects, including Waikato Innovation Park.

“Much like GridAKL in Auckland and the EPIC Centre in Christchurch, Waikato has developed its own innovation campus,” he explains.

“The Waikato Innovation Park is home to over 40 technology based companies with a strong culture of innovation and an export focus, including Ardito, LayerX, iQuest, The Cloud, DL Consulting, Farmax, Skypoint Technologies and Smartrak.”

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Callaghan Innovation

Bernard adds that the Bay of Plenty is also awaiting decisions by Callaghan Innovation on funding towards a local technology innovation centre.

“Another specific local tech project worth mentioning is the University of Waikato’s Traffic and Road Safety research group,” Bernard adds.

“This team have been working to develop special eye-tracker technology that enables their researchers to see what types of movement are distracting drivers.

“Their research has provoked legislative change and the team work with Government agencies like NZTA, Ministry of Transport, and ACC to ensure the practical application of their technology.

“With The Startup Factory NZ soon launching their incubation hub in Hamilton city we can expect to see more growth in the region’s tech sector.”

Tech talent shortage

With a growing tech sector, Bernard believes “so many more” tech professionals are happy in their current role meaning less are considering jumping ship.

“It is no surprise that the latest Absolute IT Employer Insight Survey show that the biggest internal business challenge Waikato and Bay of Plenty employers are facing this year is ‘attracting staff’ and ‘creating a positive workplace culture’ to hold onto the talent they’ve already got,” Bernard adds.

“The region’s tech sector is packed to the brim with exciting career opportunities from entry level support roles to management.”

According to Bernard, the top tech skill sets in high demand in the region are dominated by business analysis, project management and architecture, followed at a distance by business intelligence, networking and infrastructure and support/helpdesk.

The latest Absolute IT Remuneration Report shows the median base salary for IT professionals in the region is $70,000, which is $12,500 less than the national base and that 67 percent are also receiving additional benefits as part of their remuneration package – health insurance, mobile allowance, additional annual leave etc.

“While these figures are lower than our other three main centres, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, it is important to think about this in context compared with the cost of living,” Bernard adds.

Housing affordability in the region is getting better and better with Massey University’s latest housing affordability report showing an increase in affordability over the last quarter.

The average house price in Waikato is $325,000 and the average rents for Hamilton central are around $200-340 per week, coastal Waihi $250-370 per week, and Whakatane $240-340.

“These cheap rents trump their next door neighbour Auckland whose CBD rents range from $340 – 470 per week,” Bernard adds.

“For those currently living in Auckland and not quite ready to pick up and move city, you might also be tempted by the fact Hamilton city is only a short commute (against traffic!) from Auckland.”