Skills shortage: companies being too picky?

Skills shortage: companies being too picky?

Summary: When I first start reporting on HR issues, one recruitment agency likened the process to a marriage bureau or dating agency.


When I first start reporting on HR issues, one recruitment agency likened the process to a marriage bureau or dating agency.

It was the turn of the century, the tech boom was on and candidates only had to have so many skills for the jobs available; a decent, but not complete, match. Employers were easygoing, and seemed keen to score.

I thought of this when I wrote about New Zealand's ICT skills shortages last week.

Two weeks ago, it was reported that Weta Digital needs to import 369 highly skilled individuals to help make various movies — something later confirmed to me by our Department of Labour. It seems, given this and other similar cases, that despite a slow economic recovery, skills shortages are widespread across the ICT sector.

Or are they? Maybe New Zealand employers are just being too picky. Recruitment agencies told me that not only are employers seeking a perfect fit, but this also extends down to candidates being required to have experience on the "right version of the right software".

New staffers are expected to "hit the ground running" straight away.

Employers are "too lean" to train, so applicants must be totally qualified and experienced at the right level. They can't be underqualified — but they equally can't be overqualified, as employers then fear that they might have to pay more.

Talk about playing hard to get!

It gets even worse. While companies seek immigrants, claiming that locals don't have the skills because our schools and colleges are churning out "the wrong sort", they don't seem to be making use of the immigrants that are already here.

A mate of mine, a software engineer, is aged 30 from Kazakhstan, and speaks four languages, including very good English. He has three degrees, with his masters degree in IT attained at a UK university.

Surely, he is the sort of guy that New Zealand is crying out for, especially since he has New Zealand residency and Kiwi work experience gained from one of the big banks in Wellington.

However, despite applying for more than 70 jobs, registering with 30 agencies and personally calling in to at least 12 of them, after more than a month, my mate still hasn't got a job.

Agencies tell me that firms see "cultural fit" as increasingly important.

Yes, it helps if staffers can get on with teams, but my mate tells me that at the interview, his employers even ask him if he follows rugby. As he explains, he's from Kazakhstan, and they don't play rugby there!

It really does make you wonder how stupid New Zealand employers are when they persistently turn down people who seem so able.

When I first started out in journalism, I had to write about golden weddings for the local evening paper. I would ask old couples for the secret behind having a 50-year marriage.

"Give and take" was the typical, clichéd reply.

This looks like good advice for New Zealand's tech employers to follow.

If they remain too picky, rather than enjoying successful relationships with their staff, they will end up "on the shelf", as talented employees decide to try their luck elsewhere.

My mate and others like him will head offshore. He says he now fancies Australia.

Topics: CXO, New Zealand, IT Employment

Darren Greenwood

About Darren Greenwood

Darren Greenwood has been in journalism, not all of it IT, since the days of typewriters and long before the web spun its way around the world.

Coming from Yorkshire, he can be blunt, and though having resided in New Zealand, as well as Australia, for quite some time, he insists he is not one of the 'sheeple!'

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  • Looking at the management point of view, hiring a contractor is cheaper than grooming a fresh graduate. In this situation, just get a contractor, get the job done and kick his back to where he comes from :)
    Skills shortage in AUS... forever issue due to market size too small compare to EU and US.
  • Australia? I've been out of full-time employment for 2 years after 30 years in IT. The attitude in NZ isn't any different than that in Australia. Companies are not only picky but so short sighted they do not make allowance for the ability to train staff anymore.
    • Same for me I echo your comments. Also out of FTE for 2 years after 25+ yrs in IT. Further it is fuelled by job agencies who handle most vacancies are useless and even more shortsighted with their "tickboxes" and never can look outside the box (micro matchbox).
  • Looking for the knowledge of the right SW version or a particular brand/kind of equipment is just a way to be able to argue that we do have a skill shortage. What we really do have is a willingness to pay shortage. This also becomes apparent during an interview where you get told ... we have changed our approach and are getting people from overseas they are cheaper. Will be interesting to see what impact the coming changes to the LAFHA will have.
  • As an employer this is my comment : The cost for IT labour has skyrocketed over the years. So why should employers not be picky ? Getting a quality IT professional is a important as hiring a CIO or a CFO these days. There are way too many dodgy IT workers out there and certifications are too easy to obtain.

    On the same token, I can hire an experienced IT professional here for 150K than hire three fresh grads who think they know everything. Not only I need to pay high salaries to fresh grads, I have to allocate money to train them so with luck some other company with a Coke machine in-house doesn't steal them away!
    Azizi Khan
    • But this is the thing. There are still plenty of good-quality graduates whose skills can raise seasoned professional eyebrows... if they were given the chance to demonstrate them. It's because of that these people are forced to seek employment in retail, customer service, physical labour... wherever the hell they can find employment. And then read how "desparate" the situation is in the IT sector, AND not be able to help since their new line of work does not qualify them for an IT position.

      It's not a case of money, most of the time. A grad with integrity would probably take a pay cut if it meant getting their foot in the door (I know I would). But the way things are, when they do try to put their foot in the door a guillotine comes down on it.

      Work experience isn't much to call either. Yes, the student is working for free, taking in everything, making notes and even contributing... but then, the time comes that they want to actually earn their keep, they are brushed aside and made redundant as some new recruit takes their place. Not many are actually kept and employed.

      My rant boils down to one question: Where's the justice in that?
  • According to my research: year 2010 entry level of graduate @ Accenture AUS with grade 75/100, in year 2011 is 65/10. They need to lower down the standard to attract more Aussie fresh graduate, this is shown that we don't even have enough fresh graduate to begin with.

    Companies are looking oversea for experiences employees. So think about the future of Aussie kids as they can't find job in the home country. It started happened with IT and Mining industry.

    So what do you think about the future of your kids?
  • With extra mobility in workforces comes less incentive to train people.

    However, it is stupid to think that some orientation/training is not required when taking on new people, whether they be employees or contractors.

    Businesses looking at very restrictive skill sets need to understand that those particular skills are time limited and no one is going to learn do long courses to gain deep skills when they willl be obsolete as soon as they are gained.

    Focus on knowledge is severely limiting, whereas focussing on the ability to rapidly gain the required knowledge is much more flexible.

    I believe in just in time knowledge aquisation, where one understands the higher level models and capabilites of software, tools et al, but specific details are not required until actually needed.

    People with such skill CAN hit the ground running can more readily adapt to not only different technologies but also corporate cultures (social and procedural).

    But flexible/adaptable people are not going to work well in inflexible businesses.
    • Wish there was a way to edit after submission, like the US site!!
  • I don't think talking to "a mate of mine" is a very good way of getting a good sample