Brain drain

I'm thinking about something new today, a little more close to home, but an interesting topic none the same. This is just a starter post.

A recent article in the NZ Herald, points out that 24.2% of New Zealanders with tertiary qualifications are resident overseas. That's the highest in the OECD and compares with only 2% of Australians. A ot of people are worried about this - calling it the "Brain Drain". The theory being that all the smart people are leaving so there must be something wrong. Especially as NZ has some of the best places to live in the world.

This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons:
1. I'm passionate about my country and want to see it succeed on the world stage; and
2. I lived overseas (on and off) for around 7 years and came back.

We Kiwis are a proud nation - mainly because we're small and generally punch above our weight in many areas (mainly sport). There's always been a real "gumption, guts and go" type attitude around here.

There's long been a great tradition here of young people heading off on the big "OE" - the Overseas Experience where you disappear for a few months or years and see some of the world.

Part of this is because we're 8 hours flying time from the nearest non-English speaking country (unless you count Australia ;-) So if you're going that far, you may as well make the most of it. It also means that long haul is no real drama for us - as most places are long haul from here. It's also a money thing. While I was living in the UK, I was still saving the same percentage of my salary, but that equated to 3 times what I would have saved in NZ. So I did well out of it financially.

Is it a problem?
Bruce Simpson of the $5,000 cruise missle fame seems to think so. Bruce uses it as a chance to bash the government again (who have dealt him some fairly hefty blows over the years) even if it is with his devil's advocate hat on. I don't think it's that bad. So long as we get a cycle of people coming back. Those figures aren't stated (if there are any).

If it is, what do we do?
We want them back I take it??? Of course we do. Being a small place, there's limited scope for doing most of the normal big things here - running huge companies, etc. All the big stuff is the cool stuff, which is necessarily a niche market (http://www.kongisking.net, http://www.supercarsnz.com) So we have to come up with other ways in enticing people back. The lifestyle is just one way. The one area I do agree with Bruce on is that the infrastructure for entrepreneurship is difficult. We have high interest rates, high corporate tax rates and the govt doesn't really invest in new firms. Therefore companies started here will always look at headquartering themselves overseas at some stage, if only for the tax breaks.

That said, New Zealand does have some things going for it. It is a great test market because you can roll something out country-wide very easily. It's got a geographically diverse environment that the scientists love because there's so much variety within a confined space. It's great for the larger worldwide telcos to use as a testbed. Vodafone do that. Alcatel are trialling their outsourced services model here too. We're one of 25 EDS-accredited Best Shore locations around the world too -so they hire here not fire. The list goes on. I'm sure I can dream up a few more.

Next post
The next post in this series will cover some of the initiatives around that could directly or indirectly help bring people back or provide great opportunities right here. I also want to think about immigration - another hot topic. Hmm, this could take a while.


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