We are starving ourselves of talent – it’s time to open the borders!2 Feb 2022

Businesses in many sectors are screaming out for skills and have been for many months. A very tight labour market continues to be hampered by the restricted border and the ready availability of much needed resources. In many cases companies have resorted to poaching their talent locally offering huge salary increases, meaning those with the deepest pockets have prevailed to the detriment of the smaller businesses at the heart of the New Zealand economy. This clearly isn’t sustainable and is extremely prejudicial to the overall economy and the country’s future.

Some sectors have been fortunate enough to be granted quotas to bring limited numbers of workers in from overseas through the Critical Purpose border exception process, but they have all been hamstrung by the debacle that is MIQ. The supposed lifeline to bring in the skills the country requires to keep the fires burning and drive the wheels of industry is great in theory, but when those people can’t get an MIQ allocation and are not able to travel that lifeline is cut off and achieves nothing. The farming sector for example has quotas for several hundred dairy farm workers and agricultural machinery operators, and yet no more than a handful have made it through the system to land in New Zealand and actually take up their employment. Similar quotas are in place for teachers, and in December the Government announced new quotas for skilled IT workers and auditors but have not as yet advised on the criteria to apply. As it stands these are all “clayton’s” exceptions which have resulted in unfulfilled expectations and little or no workers.

The previously touted move to self-isolation for fully vaccinated passengers upon arrival in New Zealand will remove the MIQ issue. The scheme was meant to be introduced in January, but this was postponed due to the threat of the Omicron variant. Now that Omicron is in the community there is an argument that the threat at the border is minimal and moving to self-isolation and testing now will free up capacity within MIQ and allow larger numbers of returning New Zealanders and skilled workers to arrive. Not forgetting than many of these returning New Zealanders are highly skilled with overseas experience and ready to fill some of the skills shortage gaps. This is a strategy supported by the DHB’s.

The swift decisive action taken way back in March 2020 was revered around the world and put New Zealand firmly on the map. However, this world leading response has since descended into procrastination and lack of progress. The rest of the world has opened and the lure of higher salaries, combined with less barriers to entry, is now making it very hard for New Zealand to compete in the global war on talent. Swift and decisive action again needs to be taken now, or we will be left behind and it could take many years to rebuild and recover.

Link: First published in Waikato Business News January/February Volume 30: Issue 1 2022