U.S. Vacuum Threatens NZ's IT Talent Pool

The booming U.S. economy could suck up New Zealand's IT workforce "like a large vacuum cleaner", local employment specialists say.

The U.S. Department of Commerce says the country will need 1.3 million new IT workers by 2006, double the number of high-tech workers currently employed.

Following appeals by IT industry leaders, the U.S. Congress is debating how it can let in more foreign workers, including those from New Zealand.

Clear Communications human resources director Peter Merry says the U.S. labor shortage is so severe that American firms will probably come to New Zealand seeking IT staff.

"You can hear a sound like a large vacuum cleaner as talent is sucked up to their booming economy," he says.

Enterprise consultant Barry O'Brien says he has a U.S. client that will take all the C++ developers he can find. O'Brien says the U.S. government will give them work visas and the companies give $NZ5,000 ($US2,250) relocation allowances, a car and housing, plus a starting salary of $US55,000.

"The fact that the U.S. government is making it easier for them to go in is going to have a vacuuming effect," he says.

On the other hand, says O'Brien, relatively high labor and other costs in the U.S. are encouraging U.S. firms to set up here. He cites Intel creating 100 jobs at a New Zealand development center.

"New Zealand still has pluses like a diverse IT economy and good lifestyle, and when the northern (hemisphere) economy slows down, more should come here," he says.

IT Futures manager David Newick agrees that countries like the U.S. present "a real threat to New Zealand.""New Zealand has some obvious lifestyle advantages but there will always be those attracted by the money," he says.

Labor Minister Margaret Wilson says retention of skilled workers is one of the most common issues raised with her.

Wilson says safer and more attractive workplaces will help the country keep workers; and modern apprenticeships and better industry training should help ease skill shortages. The newly passed Employment Relations Act, which strengthens unions, will also help, she says.

"They empower workers and allow their views to be expressed. They balance the power and influence of the wealthy and allow the dignity of all work to be recognized.

"By bringing all these elements together, New Zealand can begin constructing a labor market strategy which will mean the problem will be handling the number of skilled and expert people wanting to come here -- not the number of similar New Zealanders going overseas to work in other economies," she says.

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