Mood of the Boardroom: Targeting the right skills crucial

By James Penn

Despite concerns, overall results of the survey indicate the migration impact is marginal in the context of other challenges. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Despite concerns, overall results of the survey indicate the migration impact is marginal in the context of other challenges. Photo / Mark Mitchell


Only two of the respondents in the Mood of the Boardroom survey were interested in loosening New Zealand's immigration policies. The vast majority -- 74 per cent -- instead, suggested that immigration policies should be better targeted to ensure New Zealand obtains people with needed skills.

Matthew Cockram, of Cooper and Company, says better targeting may not even require legislative or regulatory change -- it's "more about tuning and modifying existing policies and their application".

This focus reflected a broader mood among CEOs that New Zealand needs to upskill its workforce. Greg Lowe of Beca says the solution is "a mix of increased skilled migration and increased targeted training. We want skilled migrants because we are short of skilled labour and the problem is getting worse as baby boomers retire."

A winery boss suggests better targeting for job skills so that "you don't have geologists driving cabs."

Another area of concern as a result of immigration policy is capital allocation.

Andrew Harmos, co-founder of Harmos Horton Lusk, argues New Zealand is failing to extract sufficient benefits from its ever-increasing attractiveness as an immigration destination.

He says New Zealand's criteria for qualifying investments under the Investor and Investor Plus visa categories are too modest.

"It is odd that qualifying investments include cash deposits in our generally Australian-owned banking system. Who does that benefit, and for how long?"

Similarly, qualifying categories also extend to investments in funds that acquire secondary market securities such as listed shares and bonds, or invest in existing, low-productivity real estate stock.

"Investments ought to be targeted to directly benefit New Zealand, provide needed growth capital, increase productivity, and contribute to the infrastructure that needs to cope with population growth," says Harmos.

"At a high level, this means investment in primary rather than secondary market assets or securities."

Harmos says New Zealand also needs to look at asset leases rather than outright sales as a way to facilitate overseas investment in important infrastructure. "New Zealanders investing in Chinese farms have to take a long-term leasehold interest," he explains. "Would the same requirement really dissuade investment here in New Zealand?"

One energy sector boss says excess net migration is driving hyper inflation in property prices and completely distorting the economy. "We need to cap net migration to something that the economy, in particular Auckland, can manage sustainably."

One way to do that without reducing overall numbers is to recalibrate immigration to regional New Zealand.

It is odd that qualifying investments include cash deposits in our generally Australian-owned banking system. Who does that benefit, and for how long?

"I think the policy should also have a requirement to ensure the regions benefit from immigration," says a CEO in the energy sector. "So a targeted regional growth and migration plan would be good." Others point out that net migration is obscuring the fundamental growth level in the economy. "The migration boom is probably making growth better than it fundamentally is, placing pressure on infrastructure and services," according to one director in the finance sector.

Despite these concerns, the overall results of the survey indicate that the migration impact is marginal in the context of other challenges.

When the CEOs were asked to rate their level of concern about the impact of 19 different domestic factors on business confidence, increased net migration only ranks 13th. However, skills and labour shortages sit fourth highest, reflecting that for most it is a question of quality rather than quantity.

Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, agrees: "The issues associated with migration don't relate to the numbers; they relate to the mismatch between what we need and what we are getting."

Don brash's top three:

• Housing affordability in Auckland and, increasingly, in other cities. Dealing with this issue requires some throttling back on non-citizen immigration, a change in tax laws, the immediate scrapping of the rural urban boundary and the funding of infrastructure by bonds secured over the rating base of the new (fringe) development.

• The fiscal consequences of the ageing of the population. This will not be resolved without a significant increase in the age of eligibility for NZ Super. It will not be resolved by making KiwiSaver compulsory, because there is no evidence KiwiSaver is actually leading to any appreciable increase in net household saving and in any event could only reduce the fiscal cost of ageing if, with compulsory KiwiSaver, NZ Super were means-tested -- and that doesn't seem at all likely.

• The persistent under-performance of productivity in New Zealand relative to other developed countries, leading to a continued gradual fall in our relative living standards. This will not be remedied by any single measure but I'd strongly favour three measures: a radical cut in the corporate income tax rate; a major reform of the RMA (not the tinkering currently envisaged); and a reduction in the rate of non-citizen immigration (for the reasons cogently argued by Michael Reddell).

- NZ Herald

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