Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Asia-savvy students talk up their value

Kimberley Wu, Yen Shih, Jennifer Donnelly and Henry Shi are organising the ‘Asia Savvy’ conference. Photo / Richard Robinson
Kimberley Wu, Yen Shih, Jennifer Donnelly and Henry Shi are organising the ‘Asia Savvy’ conference. Photo / Richard Robinson

A student-led conference at Auckland University tomorrow will aim to teach "ignorant" Kiwi employers that hiring Asia-savvy workers will help business.

Organising manager Jennifer Donnelly, 20, a law and arts undergrad, said frustration was one reason a group of students united to organise the Asia Savvy: NZ Asia Conference.

"Time and again, we hear of how graduates from the university struggle to find employment just for being Asian," Donnelly said.

"At a time when the New Zealand economy and the world is shifting its focus to Asia, one ... focus of this forum is to raise awareness among local employers that it could be beneficial to employ someone who is Asia-savvy."

In an ongoing Asia New Zealand study tracking Asian business graduates from New Zealand over three years, respondents cited being seen as "Asian" or "foreign" in New Zealand as one of the main barriers limiting their employment opportunities.

Almost 75 per cent of graduates interviewed for the study agreed or strongly agreed that "employers in New Zealand are reluctant to hire international graduates".

One respondent said: "New Zealand still has a bias against foreigners. It attracts foreigners to replace skill shortages not looking at the unique advantages of the new people coming."

China-born PhD student Henry Shi, 35, an organising committee member, said New Zealand employers still struggled to understand the Asian concept of doing business through "guanxi" or relationship.

"Sometimes, establishing relationships can be the factor that makes or breaks business deals in a market like China, but New Zealand businesses still view the Asian way of doing business with suspicion," Shi said.

Fellow organiser Ian Shih said one key aim of the forum was to also raise awareness of the importance of "guanxi" and for New Zealand businesses to take advantage of the free trade agreement "before it's too late".

Shih, also a PhD student, said Asia-savvy graduate employees could play "a vital role" acting as a bridge between their employers and their home country.

"They will have the cultural understanding, language ability and the know-how to avoid pitfalls for businesses wanting to expand into China or Asia," he said.

The conference will also identify where the jobs are for Asia-savvy graduates, look at what these graduates value in their relationship with New Zealand and how universities can enhance "Asia-savviness" of students.

Speakers will include David Walker, deputy secretary for Americas, Asia, Middle East and Africa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Owen Glenn, founder of Vanguard Logistics, and Asian MPs Melissa Lee and Raymond Huo.

Kimberly Wu, spokeswoman for the New Zealand Asia Institute, which is supporting the conference, said there was "a wide gap" between Kiwi employers and Asian international graduates on the understanding of doing business in Asia.

"Businesses who go in blind and on their own into the Chinese market risk losing a lot of money," Wu said.

But experts believe Asia-savvy employees will be in demand as the impact that the region has in the global economy becomes even more distinct.

"Asian economies and markets are continuing to rise as Europe and the Americas are going down. Some New Zealand employers may be slow, but they'll have to wake up to this," said Charles Chow, adviser to the institute, who will also speak at the conference.

"Asia-savvy graduates will be in demand, if not in New Zealand, then most definitely in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul, where many global multinational corporations are based."

- NZ Herald

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