Claims that 'we don't need migrants' are wide of the mark

Claims that 'we don't need migrants' are wide of the mark

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What's your availability?

These were just two of the questions put to students at a recent course in Wellington designed to help them prepare for job interviews.

The answer most gave to the first question: "I set my alarm really loudly." The most common answer to the second: "I'm available from 8am to 5pm."

To those of us who were brought up speaking English, those answers are both naïve and amusing.

But to the 70 international graduate students on the course they are symptomatic of the challenge they face as they consider work in a society that's foreign to them even after several years living and studying here.

These soon-to-be graduates in fields such as architecture and design, culinary, agriculture, IT, and education had expressed a desire to explore the possibility of staying in New Zealand to work.

The course, called Work Ready in Wellington, was run by Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (Wreda) in conjunction with Education NZ and regional educational providers, with sessions led by tutors from Wellington Chamber of Commerce, Summer of Tech, and Victoria University.

The goal is to entice international students with the skills we need to stay here after they graduate, and the course was designed to prepare those interested by introducing them to what they can expect in our professional workplaces and explaining some of the barriers – right down to things such as "work is not heads down from 8 to 5' but a place to enjoy yourself, and calling your boss 'John'".

Despite some of the recent rhetoric, most of it political, around migration levels and how the country is opening its doors too readily, such graduates are exactly the sort of people we need.

Chamber members are constantly telling me they find it increasingly difficult to find the skills they need to run and grow their business.

The recently published national survey of employers 2014/15 goes a long way to dispelling some of the myths around migrants.

The most common reasons employers gave for hiring migrants were that they were the best candidate (54 per cent of employers), they had skills and qualifications (53 per cent), experience (43 per cent), good work ethic (36 per cent) and because of skill shortages (35 per cent).

More tellingly, 93 per cent of employers rated migrants' overall performance as either "very good" (64 per cent) or "good" (29 per cent).

The main reasons were: right attitude, willing to learn, work ethic, and going above and beyond their role (68 per cent); work is very good quality (49 per cent); they do what is required (45 per cent); they have the required skills and experience (45 per cent).

When it came to perception of their contribution to New Zealand, 63 per cent of employers said migrants made an important contribution to the economy, and 59 per cent said they made New Zealand more productive and innovative.

These figures show clearly that we all win by taking on skilled migrants, particularly those with skill-sets in short supply, and that all the noise about how we don't need them is wide of the mark.

Once we can show them, through courses such as that run by Wreda, that plying their skills here is a choice worth making, it's a matter to matching them with employers.

That's where programmes such as the chamber's skilled newcomers programme comes in.

It's a free service that aims to match skills with the needs of business, and it's tailor-made for an environment like ours where a steady stream of international graduates is only too eager to explore the opportunities.

It's simply a matter of 'give us your jobs and we'll find someone to fill them'.

- John Milford, Chief Executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce