The skilled middle of New Zealand's workforce has begun to swarm across the Tasman again as the New Zealand and Australian job markets head in apparently opposite directions.

The net permanent or long-term outflow of New Zealand citizens to Australia jumped from 18,512 in 2009 to 21,856 last year, Statistics NZ said yesterday.

A Weekend Herald analysis of those who stated an occupation shows that 60 per cent of the net loss from the workforce came from the three skilled groups of professionals, technicians and trade workers and community and personal service workers.

In contrast, the net losses were below average at the top of the occupational spectrum, for managers, and for the least skilled groups - sales workers, clerical and administrative workers and labourers.

Australian salaries are quoted in Australian dollars, which are worth NZ$1.31 each at this week's market exchange rate.

But the last OECD estimate in 2009 of the "real" exchange rate, taking account of living costs in both countries, found that $1 in New Zealand could buy the same bundle of goods as 98c in Australia. This suggests that the salary figures below from the jobs website Seek should be compared directly in the dollars of each country, disregarding the market exchange rate.

Who's leaving?
Specialist managers
* No. leaving last year: 632
* Per cent of workforce: 9.7 per cent
* Example: Quality assurance and control
* Australian average: $73,241
* NZ average: $71,103

The 6495 people in the miscellaneous specialist managers group at the last census included 1989 quality assurance managers, 1236 military officers, 1116 sports administrators, 486 laboratory managers and a mixed bag of other specialists.

Massey University professor Nigel Grigg, who runs Australasia's only tertiary-level quality assurance course and leads the NZ Organisation for Quality, says an increasing number of his graduates head straight to Australia.

"Australia has more of a focus on quality than NZ business, certainly their managers are more quality-conscious," he says.

"We also get a certain number of people who have come to NZ in order to go to Australia and while in NZ get a qualification that will make them more attractive when they hit the Australian market."

Health and welfare support workers
* No. leaving last year: 533
* Per cent of workforce: 3.8 per cent
* Example: Child, youth and family services worker
* Australian average: $58,068
* NZ average: $46,357

The 14,200 people in this group at the last census included 5163 community workers, 1287 youth workers, 1272 massage therapists and 1875 enrolled nurses. (Registered nurses are in a different occupational group and surprisingly only 0.6 per cent of them left for Australia last year).

Social Service Providers Aotearoa executive officer Donna Ellen says recruiters from Australia and Britain are attracting "our best and brightest".

"They are able to offer more lucrative remuneration than we can here. I think over the past three or four years we have been seeing that," she says.

"Years ago a social worker job in the Government was the sort of thing you did for the rest of your life. Now the turnover is huge. That creates difficulties for the client group that need longstanding relationships."

Health therapists
* No. leaving last year: 279
* Per cent of workforce: 3.2 per cent
* Example: Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and rehabilitation
* Australian average: $68,440
* NZ average: $60,468

The country's 8600 health therapists include 2496 physiotherapists, 1446 occupational therapists and exactly the same number of dentists.

Physiotherapy NZ president Gill Stotter says physiotherapy is an internationally mobile profession and NZ-trained therapists are well regarded in Australia and Britain.

The profession has been hit by an Accident Compensation Corporation decision to end full subsidies from late 2009, causing a 23 per cent drop in physiotherapy claims paid by ACC in the year to September. But Ms Stotter expects resumed growth in work for her members as society ages.

"We are going to need more physiotherapists into the future with the ageing population so we are not wanting to lose them overseas," she says.

Engineering professionals
* No. leaving last year: 585
* Per cent of workforce: 3 per cent
* Example: Civil/structural engineer
* Australian average: $113,838
* NZ average: $95,512

Garry Macdonald, an Auckland-based Beca Carter water engineer who is president of the Institution of Professional Engineers, was on a three-month contract in Sydney when the Weekend Herald rang yesterday.

"I'm not atypical," he says. "There are quite a few firms in New Zealand, such as Fletchers and Beca, that span the Ditch. It could be that the engineers are going to Australia because companies are placing them there."

The institution's chief executive Andrew Cleland says NZ-based firms are deliberately building up their operations in Australia to earn export revenue.

He says there has always been a huge "churn" in engineering, with departing New Zealanders currently being replaced by engineers from Britain and Ireland. "Ireland has 4000 unemployed civil engineers," he says.

Medical practitioners
* No. leaving last year: 259
* Per cent of workforce: 2.5 per cent
* Example: General practitioner
* Australian average: $111,485
* NZ average: $119,583

Royal NZ College of General Practitioners chairman Harry Pert says doctors are being offered "golden handshakes" of up to $500,000 by "aggressive" Australian recruiters.

He says the average salary packages being offered on Seek hide a huge range of pay rates in rural and urban parts of Australia and in different kinds of practice.

"It comes and goes," he says. "At the moment, ironically, overall morale is pretty good, but there's an international shortage of generalist doctors.

"We can't compete with the salaries of Australia or the UK, so if we can't compete with money how can we compete? It comes back to the working environment, professional development and professional satisfaction. Those things can be worked on."

Natural and physical science professionals
* No. leaving last year: 257
* Per cent of workforce: 2.3 per cent
* Example: Environmental, earth and geosciences
* Australian average: $99,835
* NZ average: $77,625

Most of the 11,200 people in this group at the last census were scientists, but the group also included 1569 vets and smaller numbers of conservation officers, park rangers and winemakers.

Association of Scientists president Jim Renwick says scientists are in a global market and go wherever they can pursue their research interests.

"NZ scientists are attractive in the international market. The education system here is pretty good," he says.

But foreign scientists are also often keen to work here. "In the area I work in, in climate research, when we are looking for new people almost always the applicants are non-New Zealanders," Dr Renwick says. "And even if they are New Zealanders, they are coming from overseas."

Building trades workers
* No. leaving last year: 1326
* Per cent of workforce: 2 per cent
* Example: Carpentry and cabinet making
* Australian average: $52,574
* NZ average: $42,500

Carpenters, electricians, painters and plumbers were the biggest groups in this large category of 65,000 people at the last census.

Christchurch-based NZ Building Trades Union secretary David O'Connell says NZ house-building has still not recovered from the recession, even in Christchurch where many buildings were damaged in the recent earthquake. "Everyone is hanging on waiting for the earthquake work to be released but nothing much has happened."

He has had inquiries from younger apprentices keen to get work in Queensland after the recent floods and cyclone there.

"To be honest, if I was in my twenties and I was a tradesman, I'd be looking at Queensland too," he says. "The jobs are available."

Food trades workers
* No. leaving last year: 545
* Per cent of workforce: 2 per cent
* Example: Chefs and cooks
* Australian average: $49,476
* NZ average: $44,094

Chefs Association president Anita Sarginson says the exodus to Australia "has left us incredibly short of cooks coming into Rugby World Cup year".

"They are leaving for better money, possibly better conditions and continuity of work," she says.

"In Victoria they are still paying penal rates for working after 7pm and at weekends. Our industry is flat-rate over here."

She says New Zealanders have been spending less in local restaurants in the recession.

"They wouldn't have dessert. They started to sit on their main course."

"Australia just didn't see the downturn that New Zealand saw."

Personal service and travel workers
* No. leaving last year: 281
* Per cent of workforce: 1.9 per cent
* Example: Hair and beauty services
* Australian average: $39,657
* NZ average: $40,476

The largest groups in this 14,500-strong category at the last census were travel consultants (4335), beauty therapists (3093) and aircraft flight attendants (2037). Hairdressers are in a different category with a similar rate of loss but smaller actual numbers.

However, Registered Beauty Therapists Association manager Vivien Engler says her group has not noticed any increased drift to Australia.

"I had a few do it last year - half a dozen said, 'We are leaving and going to Australia," she says.

She believes the biggest losses may be in the more mobile professions such as travel and flight attendants.

Arts and media professionals
* No. leaving last year: 299
* Per cent of workforce: 1.7 per cent
* Example: Journalists and writers
* Australian average: $61,527
* NZ average: $53,593

This group of 17,500 people at the last census includes print and electronic media professionals plus artists, photographers, musicians and actors.

AUT University journalism leader Martin Hirst says the NZ job market for journalists has picked up a lot in the last six months or so, but for the first time two of his 2010 graduates have gone straight into media jobs in Australia.

"The news industry is a bit healthier there," he says. "The ABC is a very strong player in Australia and I think that means everyone else has to pick their game up. And you have much stronger competition between the Murdoch and Fairfax groups in each city than there is here. That has to increase the number of journalists."