Mood of the Boardroom 2012: Will we be able to fill the baby-boom generation gap?

By Fran O'Sullivan

Chief executives have expressed concern as more and more New Zealanders head for the departure gates.
Chief executives have expressed concern as more and more New Zealanders head for the departure gates.

New Zealand has one of the world's largest diaspora with nearly 20 per cent of people born here now living offshore.

It's an issue that concerns two-thirds of the chief executives responding to the Herald's CEO Survey.

Half of them believe things will get better here, but New Zealand won't meet its full potential.

Most don't believe the inflow of immigrants compensates for the outflow of skilled and unskilled New Zealanders. They are also concerned there won't be sufficient talent to replace the baby boom generation as it retires.

"The Kiwi diaspora is one of the key challenges for business considering we will increasingly need world class Kiwi talent in order to compete and grow living standards," says BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly. "Immigration can help stem the losses but is never going to be a 'perfect fit' replacement. World class diversity policies and actions will also help and we don't have enough of that yet."

Deloitte chief executive Thomas Pippos agrees it "is a critical issue. Economies are often a function of their intellectual property and their physical resources which in both cases that they can commercialise and exploit. Highly skilled New Zealanders are critical to this, particularly in relation to the former."

But one-third of CEOs are not concerned at the growing diaspora.

LGFA chairman Craig Stobo describes Kiwis going offshore to work as "a safety valve for New Zealand unemployment.

"New Zealanders get specialist skills and it provides locals with overseas contacts," says Stobo. "The flip side is acknowledging the contribution of skilled migrants to New Zealand."

Others point out there is an economic and social cost to the increasing diaspora.

The market is international and skills are portable.

Despite this many chief executives are taking action to develop younger Kiwis (particularly Gen Y-ers) to incentivise them to build a future in New Zealand.

Mainfreight's Don Braid says his company continues to employ young Kiwi graduates for its business in New Zealand and "are discouraging the migration of them to our businesses offshore in an effort to retain good New Zealand talent".

"At the same time we are encouraging our offshore operations to employ 'locals' in an effort to build their own talent base."

A technology firm said it provided interns and employees with exposure to global experiences from New Zealand through conferences, and multi-country online team work.

Peter Thompson says his real estate firm is looking at cadetships for younger salespeople where they will work in conjunction with experienced salespeople.

"They can learn the techniques and then they can go out on their own from there."

But there is broad acceptance that many will go offshore for greater opportunity and experience.

Simpson Grierson's Kevin Jaffe says his legal firm experiences "high attrition" among the junior ranks.

"They typically go to London - or elsewhere - but many return back to New Zealand when they have gained more experience."

"We train them well, give them quality work experiences and better quality work life balance than is available in major financial centres," said a petro-chemical firm head.

"We accept they will go and work overseas - we just want to get them to return."

Sixty per cent of chief executives do not believe the outflow of both skilled and unskilled New Zealanders is compensated by the inward flow of migrants.

"There's cultural ignorance on both sides therefore immigrants aren't leveraged to the max," said one respondent.

A company chairman pointed out that New Zealand has not yet learned how to embrace cultural diversity.

But South Pacific's John Barnett says New Zealand "fails to capitalise on the educated migrants we bring in, discriminating against colour, and language issues. We set very high barriers for them to leap in order to utilise the skills they have, but we also bring in people with few skills, no language and little interest in assimilating into the community."

Other views included:

"Many new migrants, while on paper they might be skilled, find themselves regarded as unskilled in New Zealand due to poor English, mis-aligned values or the mode of thinking which is needed to drive innovation and productivity."

"Sorry, but the level of migrants seems poor by comparison - we have an Pacific Island population who aren't interested or don't know how to access the 21st century and I'd like to see us work much harder at integrating our Asian population."

The upshot is there are rapidly developing gaps for skilled people emerging in New Zealand.

Companies are mapping out shortages and exploring a range of alternatives including off-shoring.

- NZ Herald

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