IBM jobs move changes New Zealand's narrative

The news that IBM is reportedly looking to transfer some jobs from Australia to New Zealand caused a bit of a stir — and so it should, as it spoils a few narratives.

The story was first reported by the National Business Review, which noted Australian commentators saying that New Zealand is scoring because our wage costs are lower, and, reassuringly, are a closer cultural fit than traditional outsourcing nations.

Low-cost New Zealand has done well lately in receiving jobs from expensive Australia. It's not just Heinz opening a canning plant in Hawkes Bay at the expense of Queensland; there have also been several Australian tech firms shifting operations over to New Zealand, thanks to our cheaper energy costs, as well as cheaper labour.

Author Chris Keall also cheekily noticed that the Australian Financial Review itself is offshoring sub-editing work to cheaper Auckland.

Technology commentator Bill Bennett does not see a great victory here if jobs are being won on lower rewards for workers, fearing a race to the bottom.

That's a fair comment, but these are hardly bottom-end jobs like you might find in an outsourced call centre.

IBM is a decent and respected employer. Big Blue will be bringing good-quality jobs to New Zealand, the high-tech knowledge economy jobs that the commentariat has said the country needs, and said government must do more to attract.

That good-quality jobs are coming our way instead of going the other way also contrasts with the trends of the tech age. Many tech firms have rationalised their operations, with their head offices retreating over the Tasman. This has resulted in Sydney getting the best jobs, the management ones, while the lower-ranked roles, if we were lucky, remained in New Zealand.

IBM's news makes a refreshing change, and that is perhaps why its move is news, with Big Blue confounding the trends of recent years.

This all comes as the company itself seems to be doing well in New Zealand. IBM plans to open a "delivery centre", creating up to 400 jobs, based on a similar scheme in Ballarat, Victoria.

It also recently reported its third year of revenue growth in New Zealand.

Certainly, these new jobs, when they arrive, can only benefit IBM further if they mean it can offer more services locally. Kiwis are an insular lot, and prefer to deal with locals, which partly explains some of the success of Datacom, Gen-i, and Revera in recent years.

IBM's move also comes as more IT workers are seeking jobs in New Zealand as opposed to Australia, according to one recruitment agency.

For years, the story has been one of an exodus of talent, a brain drain over the Tasman, but it seems that greener pastures are not always found overseas. Many may be Kiwis looking to return home, but it seems that there are also Australians looking for a life in New Zealand.

Certainly, that, too, contrasts with recent years.

IBM's move can only be welcomed, as it will strengthen our own tech sector, as well as offering IBM customers on both sides of the Tasman better prices.

That such a global giant sees benefit in shifting work to New Zealand can also be further applauded, as it may well encourage other Australian IT business to think that if IBM can do it, so can they.

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