Technical skills no longer enough for successful careers, say NZ CEOs.

If you think executive teams in some companies are getting younger, they are.
Yet New Zealand companies overall are struggling to find the right people with the right skills to help ensure growth in a business environment marked by rapid and sometimes overwhelming change.

It's all part, says PwC CEO Mark Averill, of the drive by many business leaders to position their company today so they are "fit for the future".

Averill, one of the panellists in the PwC-Herald Talks launch event at Sky City Theatre on April 5, will be discussing leadership after PwC's recent survey touched on several issues on the minds of New Zealand CEOs.

Now in its 20th year, the CEO survey revealed optimism about growth and more than half (53 per cent) said they would be increasing headcount while only 16 per cent said they would be making cuts.

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However, with a volatile and fast-changing business landscape due to the pace of technological change, most CEOs were worried about finding the right people with the right skills and increased exposure to technology risks.

The speed of technological change concerned 84 per cent - a marked difference with Australia, UK and the US, where business leaders were far less concerned by the pace of change. In New Zealand, 81 per cent of CEOs wanted to change their people strategy to reflect the skills/structure their business would need in the future.

"Technology is making people more relevant than ever to New Zealand businesses. We're seeing CEOs put people at the centre of their growth plans, then plan technology needs around that.

"Technology is enabling younger people to bring their views to the table sooner. The younger generation are able to embrace changes in technologies quickly and use them effectively. That is essential for companies and gives younger people an opportunity to get them involved at a higher level sooner."

He agreed PwC's executive team and those of clients are getting younger: "We have some younger people on our executive team now, bringing with them a new way of thinking, particularly in areas such as technology and transformation.

"We also employ something like 100 graduates a year and take 50-70 summer interns. We are certainly the largest employer of grads and interns in the business advisory sector and have a broader perspective on their potential attributes.

"We are now going beyond the old core skills of accounting and economics. Those are still required but the reality is we also need people with a STEM background which delivers quantitative and analytic skills. Ironically, our CEO Survey revealed that STEM skills are in lower demand in NZ than across the ditch.

"These days it's all about people who can solve problems and are able to change and adapt quickly - so it's increasingly important for graduates to have broader, softer skills as well as a technical background.

"Strong grades are great but we are looking past that to see the softer skills, whether they have been in any problem-solving competitions, whether they play team sports, their personal and social skills, so we can assess whether they have the ability to build relationships with clients and others."

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PwC wants to do more work with universities to make sure graduates are emerging with skills sought by business.

"We think there is more to be done in that area," says Averill, whose company is already helping lower decile primary schools with a financial literacy programme and which also works at secondary school level with a mentoring programme.

"We want to get increasingly involved with universities so we can help make them aware of the skills we are after."

An example was the growing trend in the IT industry to seek out arts graduates to train up in technical and technology skills - as those grads were better equipped to build business relationships than many out-and-out IT degree holders.

Diversity - ethnic and gender - was similarly a key opportunity: "Auckland is one of the most diverse cities in the world, providing a huge talent pool from which we can draw some of the different perspectives we all seek to help businesses harness or address issues like disruption."

The growing importance of Asia to New Zealand was a good example: "People coming into business now have to understand the culture and business environment of that market so they can advise clients - so again it is a great opportunity for younger people to employ their digital and diversity skills."


*The 2017 PwC Herald talks begin with a leadership event, beginning 7am on April 5 at the Sky City Theatre. Keynote speaker is Daniel Flynn from Thankyou, while renowned business journalist Fran O'Sullivan will adjudicate a panel composed of PwC CEO Mark Averill, Traci Houpapa (award-winning company director and industry leader) and Rannja Patel (director, Nirvana Health Group).