Finding & keeping IT talent
Coming through what is proving to be the second biggest economic depression the world has seen since the 1920’s, we are finding enormous impacts on employment and employees in New Zealand. Yet, our IT and Telecommunications sector has fared better than many.The New Zealand IT sector ran into the slowdown with enormous skill shortages, which initially helped to buffer the impacts on those who were in fulltime employment, and also to a large extent the contract labour pool. However, by mid-2008 things were beginning to turn, and with retail in disarray and property and finance being the trigger for much of the sustained losses, the market began to slow dramatically. Over the last four years, from mid 2007 to present day, we have found buoyant pockets of employment and a much more depressing picture in other segments.Employers are looking for employees who are able to ‘do more with less’ and who get on and deliver. New Zealand was to a large extent very effectively buffered from the impact of the financial crisis, simply because of our export markets being Asian focused, rather than strongly directed at the US and Europe – but that hasn’t assisted our retail segments. With a very large retail-directed project grinding to a halt in late 2008, a pool of around 200 contractors and ‘in-company’ employees flooded onto the market in Auckland, just ahead of Christmas. Many of them were still job hunting in June of ’09.Companies have sought to do much more of their recruitment directly, without using agencies or consulting companies, although this has only been partly successful. With Government, both central and local, continuing to spend and initiate IT projects, the work has been there, but always harder to secure, and always with a big emphasis on the price and the value delivered.Permanent employees, safely ensconced in a company in a necessary role, have hunkered down and stayed put. Being grateful to have some certainty, many have sailed quite happily through the difficult times. However, in our own experiences, backed up by media reports, we would estimate 50-75% of permanent IT employees would be open to attend a job interview, with 25% actively seeking a new role, and the balance indicating they would like to hear about new opportunities.Employers don’t seem to be battling for employee retention at the moment. There is perhaps a level of either complacency or acceptance, as the European markets hiccup again, and their staff reconsider their appetite for risk, in looking outside their safe moorings.Dearth and glutAreas of the market particularly affected over the last four years have shown up in the dearth of available sales and marketing positions, a glut of available project management resource, as well as in the ability to choose the quality delivery people in the market, rather than having to accept a more humdrum performance.The recruitment companies have most definitely suffered, with many of the small one-man-band Auckland recruiters disappearing altogether, and the large companies dialling back significantly. Advertising, online and in the print media, fell to a fraction of its levels in early ’07. But the roles were still there, just a bit harder to hunt down.One well-trodden path for IT people, many of whom have enjoyed years of good earning potential, was to take the opportunity to study for degrees or certifications, or take time out to travel, as the costs of doing fell significantly. High levels of change – the creation of the "Supercity” and the strength of the dairy industry – have meant that SAP professionals haven’t had much difficulty finding work, whether as a contractor or as a permanent employee. So the most noticeable shift in the labour market has really been people’s attitude to the degree of risk that they will take to on-going employment.Tracing the trendsTrends over the last four years, particularly for the Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington markets, have included:
- The drift to public sector projects in Australia, and the return back across the Tasman in the last 12 months.
- Retraining and up-skilling by employees, utilising their periods of unemployment to become more marketable.
- On-going skills shortages for SAP Functional Consultants.
- A glut of project management skills, even amongst those with PMI and associated industry qualifications.
- A slowing of immigration from traditional sources of IT professionals
- An inclination on the part of employees to "choose local knowledge”. In the melting pot that is the technology sector, this has nothing whatsoever to do with ethnicity, but is all about people with five years or more working on New Zealand projects with local teams.
- An aversion to the use of agencies, until the sheer volume of response from applicants has made the filtering to a quality shortlist a worthwhile investment.