COVER STORY Smart Wars – The global battle for brains and management talent

Talented individuals are now hyper-mobile. They have become global commodity, commanding high salaries and perks to match in countries all around the world, but particularly Australia, the UK and Europe. Executive appointment listings now read more like travel itineraries than career CVs. Bright Brits land in Auckland via job stopovers in New York and Thailand; returning Kiwis sport senior-level sojourns in London and Brussels; and A-grade academics take up residence in our halls of learning bedecked with credentials from Singapore, Ireland and England.
Permanent and long-term migration flows in and out of New Zealand are higher than ever before, according to the Department of Labour’s ‘Future of Work’ programme and report. And experts believe this level of labour mobility could profoundly impact our job markets and economy.
It is concern that echoes around the world. The question is, can New Zealand compete?
As globetrotting talent moves further, faster and in more diverse directions than ever before, those worried about where and why needed skills seem to be fleeing their company, industry, tertiary sector or country are left studying an increasingly dense vista of vapour trails for clues.
In South Africa, for instance, there are fears the brain drain has become flood which is hampering the country’s economic development. recent survey showed its skill exodus rose by 50 percent in the past year prompting locally based multinationals and trade unions to launch respective “skills crusade” and “come home” campaigns to lure emigrants back. Interestingly, New Zealand features as fourth favourite exit destination for South Africans, behind the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Australia has, meanwhile, measured its “diaspora” at around 900,000 – or more than four percent of its population. research paper published in May this year by Australian demographer and research consultant Graeme Hugo suggests that permanent and long-term departures from Australia have reached record levels and that while the country is commonly categorised as an immigration nation, it has also become country of “significant emigration”.
Departing residents are usually younger and more educated than the general population and head, more often than not, for destinations in the UK, European Union and North America – though more are now heading to Asia.
Sound familiar?
And while the UK and the US tend to feature in the ‘desired destination’ box for high fliers from countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and others, even those much larger and seemingly more attractive economies are worried about the state of their valuable brain pools and working hard to attract globetrotting talent.
The UK recently launched financial incentives scheme to lure back top researchers and scientists, while the US recently raised its annual cap on temporary work visas granted to highly skilled professionals.
As the global battle for top-level talent heats up, New Zealand is justified in feeling tad vulnerable to offshore poaching and fearful that the traditional OE may segue into permanent exile.
Emigration – at least on temporary basis – is almost national rite of passage. One consequence is diaspora only slightly smaller than Australia’s – but representing much heftier chunk (nearly 22 percent) of our total population.
This loss is to some extent offset by the arrival of talent from elsewhere. Recent high-level appointments have been drawn from such places as Canada, the UK and South Africa as well as Australia. But the balance, it seems, is currently shifting against us.
Latest statistics on external migration show that the past year’s net permanent/long-term (PLT) gain – 25,700 in the year to April 2004 – has dropped 39 percent compared to the previous year due both to decrease in PLT arrivals (down 12,000) and an increase in PLT departures (up 4400). Arrivals from the UK are up, those from Asia are down and we’re losing around 11,000 year to Australia.
But just totting up the numbers doesn’t tell us much about who’s leaving, why they might become stay-aways and what will lure them back. Which is where recent study by Massey University researchers kicks in.

Kiwis abroad
Designed to increase understanding of talent migration and its implications for national and organisational policies, the “New Zealanders Abroad Study” surveyed 2201 Kiwis currently working offshore. Approached through some 40 professional organisations including the New Zealand Institute of Management, the sample has top-tier bias. More than 94 percent of the surveyed individuals had degree or higher level qualification.
Nearly half this pool of migratory talent intends to return home, according to the survey. More than 25 percent plan to stay in their adopted countries while further 28 percent hadn’t made up their minds. Amongst the occupational groups least likely to return are chief executives, directors, financial consultants and managers.
When researchers explored the motivation and values behind the individual future intentions they found those most attracted to returning to New Zealand put relatively greater emphasis on family and lifestyle issues. The stay-aways were more focused on achievement and influence.
This perhaps provides partial explanation for New Zealand’s relatively poor economic performance over recent decades. We have, perhaps, been exporting our entrepreneurial drive and business leaders.
Massey’s professor of management Kerr Inkson led the research team with Stuart Carr, associate professor in the University’s School of Psychology. He concedes the conclusion is slightly provocative way of phrasing the possibility but adds that “there is certain amount of evidence for it which emerged from the survey in number of ways”.
When, for example, respondents were asked to rank values, statistically significant differences were identified on four out of six and they all pointed in the same direction, says Inkson. “If you are interested in the conventional indicators of success in business or work-type setting, then you’re more likely to stay overseas; if you’re more interested in human-centred values – family, lifestyle, social and recreational activities – you’re more likely to head back to New Zealand.”
This direction could be compounded by other variables in the mix. For example, large proportion of respondents work in the financial sector, many in senior positions – skew attributable to the fact that more than 60 percent of the sample was obtained through the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (ICANZ) offshore networks. At 20.3 percent, managers made up the largest occupational grouping and along with senior financial managers and CEO/directors comprised more than third of the respondent sample.
And the more senior the individual, the longer they have been away. Nearly quarter of the sample has been out of New Zealand for more than 10 years – time in which to climb the career ladder and become settled offshore. But they haven’t entirely forgotten their roots. Some had lived overseas for more than 20 years, but more than 90 percent of them identified as New Zealanders first.
That Kiwi ID is an asset for the growing number of industry associations, companies or educational institutions now putting more effort into maintaining contact with alumni either as an offshore resource or with an eye to luring them home when circumstances change.
On the other hand, half these self-identified Kiwis also related to second country or with being “citizen of the world”.
The forces that affect talent flow are very complex, says Inkson, and any notion of brain drain or gain based on analysis of numbers is an over simplification. “The demographers can tell us how many come, leave or intend to stay away but, in terms of understanding the reasons behind these movements, we don’t know nearly as much as we should.”
Which is why Massey plans to expand its talent flow progra

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