It's shaping up to be a battle of Bledisloe Cup proportions as Australian head hunters begin luring Kiwi talent across the Tasman with pay offers that make it impossible for local employers to compete.
Once news that a transtasman bubble was imminent, approaches started to ramp up. Now that the bubble is open, the Aussies have landed and the tug-of-war for talent is getting serious, recruitment agencies say.
Armed with too-hard-to-refuse salaries, often 40 per cent higher in service industries and professions like nursing, midwifery and teaching, Australian recruitment agencies also dangle the promise of a better lifestyle, warmer weather and, outside of Sydney and Melbourne, cheaper housing. Other industries including skilled workers in construction, IT and engineering are offered salaries even higher.
The poaching has made local recruiters nervous as they watch an increasing number of Australian job ads appear on Seek, Trade Me and Facebook, and hear stories of shoulder tapping through LinkedIn. Local recruiting agencies are already fishing for staff in a rapidly evaporating pond and now the Aussies are in town with even bigger nets.
Brett O'Riley, chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, said sourcing workers was already a painful process and it was now exacerbated by the predatory behaviour of Australian employers looking for skilled workers.
"That's in areas like technology, infrastructure, engineers, designers … the very professions where we are short already," he said. "We've had major Auckland recruiters that have been told 'find skilled New Zealand workers in these areas … take their NZ salary and triple it.'"
Hamish Price, a director of recruitment agency HainesAttract, said New Zealand businesses were screaming out for employees, but the Australians were screaming louder.
The health sector, engineering and technical were the three areas most targeted.
"It just makes it harder because not every sector can bring people in. Our pool is incredibly small and this is just another thing that chips away at it," he said.
Members of his team at HainesAttract had also been targeted by Australian recruiters offering considerably higher salaries. Price said recruitment staff were in high demand to help find labour and skilled workers for major construction work including the New South Wales transport projects and Cross River Rail project in Brisbane.
"Bigger projects, bigger salaries, bigger commissions for recruiters is basically what they're saying," he said.
The company has had an indirect approach from an Australian rest-home group wanting the company to recruit New Zealanders.
"We would not do that type of work. It's too close to home."
Price and others in the industry say young, skilled Kiwis want a change of scenery after being cooped up for more than a year and with the traditional OE on the back burner. In an effort to cater for the "itchy feet" aspect, the New Zealand side of Australasian companies were offering secondments across the Tasman in various cities.
Recruiters and those they represent worry what the bidding war will do to wage inflation and have already seen employers forced to raise salary offers just to compete.
"That is a worrying trend because it is going to have to be passed down the line somewhere," Price said.
Max Whitehead, of the Whitehead Group recruitment agency, said a New Zealand chemical company had been "robbed" of its skilled staff by Australian recruiters this year.
"The recruiters are actually coming out to New Zealand to interview them in person to try and infiltrate our market," he said.
"New Zealand is easy fodder because of our success with Covid and our borders are loosening up."
Nick Gillingham, a director of Construction & Technical Recruitment, said he is starting to see Australian ads for quantity surveyors and project management, commanding reasonably high salaries.
Australian company Altus Group, which provides software and data solutions for the commercial real estate industry, has been advertising for quantity surveyors in New Zealand and earlier this month recruiters were conducting face-to-face interviews in Christchurch.
Auckland-based recruitment agency Tribe has noticed both Australian and US companies recruiting Kiwis to set up satellite offices in New Zealand. Head of Tribe Technology Chelsi Clifton said the reasons were likely to be that labour was cheaper, English was the first language and New Zealand was considered "near shore", - work hours crossed over a portion of the day in both countries.
But Clifton said to counteract that she had also noticed both Australians and Australian-based Kiwis were more willing to look at roles located in New Zealand, particularly in the areas of accounting and finance.
But Price said the labour flow was increasingly one way, in Australia's favour.
"The transtasman bubble was never really going to work both ways. When you start looking at that proposition, it just doesn't stack up."
It was no longer just a skills shortage, he said, it was a people shortage across all sectors.
"We've never seen anything like it. We simply don't seem to have the people here to produce and care and manufacture and service the things that we need. We are missing our migrants."
In a HainesAttract survey of skilled professionals earlier this year almost a third of the 204 respondents said they were likely to head overseas once the borders opened. Of that group, 60 per cent said their destination would be Australia.
Those in the 25–45 age group were the most likely to go, with the driving factor being career progression and/or employment opportunities.
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