NZ firms hiring in Oz as Govt ups tertiary spend to help meet demand for recruits

In November last year Datacom attended the New Zealand Job Fair in Sydney, organised by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

It came away with a dozen or so prospects, either Australians or New Zealand expats who might have the "rock star" vibe that draws in more talent.

Datacom's head of recruitment, Ewen Bell, says even if only a few come on board, it will make the exercise worthwhile.

"We want more rock stars because we are a flat-structured organisation and we see our mission to provide highly effective high-value IT services to appreciative customers, so there is a constant stream of projects that excite and attract people," he says.

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"That contributes to low turnover, and that means an engaged workforce that can produce some astonishingly great work that does not get publicity, and that is fine with us."

As well as the rock stars, Bell says the company has a pool of hundreds of pre-approved people in every geography to call on. It also runs a large graduate programme to recruit from the universities.

Datacom's New Zealand headcount is about 2800, including the bulk of its 900 software developers, with a further 1500 people across the Tasman spread through every state.

However many people it picks up at the Sydney job fair - and the ones in Melbourne and Brisbane - will be a small fraction of the 400 to 500 people it will need to hire this year.

The same goes for other New Zealand companies, including product developers like Xero and Orion.

MBIE says by 2017 New Zealand will need another 50,000 highly skilled workers, including IT workers.

Minister Steven Joyce says the job fairs, which also targeted engineering, construction, health and manufacturing skills, are just one of several initiatives being taken to address the IT skills shortage.

Joyce, who is also the Minister for Tertiary Education, says there has been a 20 per cent lift in enrolments in university computer science and information and communications technology courses.

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"Through the late 2000s we were getting 450 to 500 graduates a year, now we get 750 a year with a higher-level ICT qualification.

"There's a big increase in investment. In 2010 it was $4 million a year. Now it's $67 million a year, mostly at degree level and above, so there has been a shift from low-level teach-yourself Word and Excel courses to a lot more investment in higher level.

"Ultimately that's not enough ... so we are setting up one-year ICT graduate schools for final year undergraduates and postgraduates.

"There will be one each in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and we've put $29 million aside for those. The aim of the exercise is to do it in a different way so some of the tests in the tenders are how closely they work with companies with high staffing needs, because one challenge with ICT is it evolves rapidly so if you are not close to business there is a risk the skills they learn are a little out of date by the time they leave."

He says training can't be the whole answer, so job fairs are part of a larger programme to bring people in or back.

There is also an online recruitment tool version, Innovation Island, which has attracted more than 2000 applicants since September.

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While the first aim of the job fairs is to fill positions in the companies that participate, they may also help Australians understand the idea of a true Australasian labour market.

"What was fascinating for me was how few Australians know, including in the media, that they don't need a work visa to come and work in New Zealand," Joyce says.

One of the biggest constraints to growth in the sector is how quickly companies can attract staff.

While firms like Orion and Xero have a huge need for recruits, a lot of second-tier companies throughout the country are also hiring.

Xero chief executive Rod Drury says New Zealand technology companies are able to attract staff because they are building good brands doing globally significant work. The fact some of the larger companies are now listed and can offer share options is an added incentive that is more in line with what is expected internationally in the industry.

Accounting software developer Xero hired 500 people last year.

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Drury is also looking to bring in between 20 and 50 graduates next year in a range of disciplines.

"We are a full service company so it's not a hard core software environment. We need marketers and customer care and even recruiters and HR people. It's all part of the maturing of the industry."

Drury says there is also a call for experts in big data.

"We processed $250 billion in transactions now so we have economic data that did not exist before."

Drury sees demand continuing to grow not just for product developers like Xero but for the services firms like Datacom.

"Large enterprises are looking to connect to the cloud, so we see 10 years of boom times for developers."

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