UPFRONT Tuning the brand

No wonder we’re losing talent across the Tasman. According to recent global survey of nations as brand attractors, we’re lagging seriously behind the Aussies.
While they’re sitting at the top of the table, New Zealand is placed at number 10 on the Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index behind countries like Canada, and the United Kingdom, though ahead of the United States.
But we’re creeping onto the radar, according to American employer branding specialist, Mark Hornung.
“Nobody in the US thought whole lot about New Zealand until Lord of the Rings was released – now everyone is like ‘this place is stunning’. When they knew I was coming here, everyone wanted to carry my bags.”
So great scenery may not be enough to pull in hordes of skilled job seekers but it adds positive halo effect to the employment branding of Kiwi organisations. And that branding is becoming increasingly important, says Hornung who was speaking last month to delegates at the Human Resource Institute of New Zealand conference in Wellington.
There’s number of reasons for the new focus on employer brander, he explains, but biggie is the demographic shift most developed countries are undergoing as the baby boomer generation retires, leaving big hole in the workforce.
“That’s coming at time when there is need for more skilled workers in certain categories. For instance, in the United States we’re currently short of about 150,000 nurses and that’s projected to be half million within five years – that’s why we’re stealing yours.”
What’s happening is that unemployment rates are falling to historic lows – New Zealand currently boasts the lowest rates in the OECD so the need for strong employer brands is even more compelling here than in America, says Hornung.
“The other part of this is that the current generations of job seekers [boomers, generation X, and millennials or generation Y] have been raised by the media to be brand oriented – they make choices based on brands.
“So one thing we’re seeing is that people are more likely to choose an employer which has well-known consumer brand than they are some unknown – or some company that has bad employment brand.”
Which obviously makes it tougher for organisations that don’t have commercial profile to attract talent.
“I talk about this quite lot in the United States and often get people from government agencies saying they don’t have the sexy image or the cash – so what can they do. My message is that factors like that are not what attracts people into those sorts of work environments.
“They may be looking for more stability, or want to feel what they’re doing is important – that they’re making contribution to society. If that’s your brand, that is what you play up.”
He notes that the only armed service that’s never run short of recruits in the United States is the Marines.
“The reason is that they’ve never been shy talking about what it is they do – which is basically going to war: that you have to be tough to be marine and only few can do it. Basically they’re using their communications as screening tool and if you’re motivated to take on the challenge and danger that come with the job, then you’re probably perfect for them.”
The other services tend to talk up vocational training.
“Everyone sees through that – and if that’s why you’re joining, maybe you ought to think about community college.”
An employer brand has to reflect the reality of working in that particular organisation – it’s vital to walk the talk in terms of work culture, environment, benefits, pay and so on.
“This is not judgemental thing because there are companies that are, quite frankly, sweat shops. You work long hours under lot of pressure but those companies also tend to pay well. So the trade-off is that if you want to be the richest person in the cemetery, that’s the environment you’ll want to be in. People do self-select.”
He notes that such brands change over time. For example, Microsoft was once, as it has been portrayed, the land of ‘micro-serfs’ – people worked incredible long hours and some suffered for that, says Hornung.
“It’s interesting that since Bill Gates had children, the organisation has softened and become more family friendly and I think it’s one of those things where you maybe need to go through some of those experiences to realise that it’s not just about the dollar.”
Which is why New Zealand employers should don Lord of the Rings halo and leverage the tourist branding.
“The more you can play up the quality of life advantages, the better.”

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