Skills shortage: companies being too picky?

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

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.

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