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The Kea Future Aspirations survey of offshore and recently returned community members shows that a significant number of offshore Kiwis still hope to return to New Zealand despite growing post-covid momentum in key markets.

This report builds upon the Kea Welcome Home Survey data published in November last year which showed a significant number of offshore Kiwis in regions including the UK, Australia, US and Canada had intended to return within the next two years. It was hoped this return of exploring Kiwis might deliver the skills and experience we desperately need to plug talent shortages and boost our nation’s productivity.

Almost nine months on, despite personal and professional obstacles, return intentions remain high – albeit somewhat delayed from earlier expectations. And, of Kiwis remaining offshore, the desire to support New Zealand from afar has never been stronger.

“We are still amidst an amazing opportunity to benefit from the skills, experience and investment of returning and offshore Kiwi, but frankly, we need to do more as a nation to engage them,” says Kea CEO, Toni Truslove.

“With many of our favoured nations for expats starting to move out of Covid-19 related lockdowns and personal restrictions, there is growing urgency to make the most of this enormous injection of human capital,” she said.

Ganesh Nana, Chair of the New Zealand Productivity Commission Te Kōmihana Whai Hua o Aotearoa agrees, adding “Internationally experienced Kiwi contribute to Aotearoa through distinctive skills, knowledge, and connections that can help lift innovation and the governance of our businesses and industries.

“We should look to capitalise on the strengths of returning and offshore Kiwis to deliver productivity lift and improvements to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders,” Nana said.

Key findings of the Kea Future Aspirations survey show that:

–        31% of respondents intend to return to New Zealand, 25% of those within two years.

–        11% of respondents are waiting until there is no managed-isolation required before they will return.

–        69% of those planning to return are doing so permanently.

–        15% of those who have already returned to New Zealand are considering moving offshore again when borders reopen, if they can’t find the right employment.

–        45% of Kiwis remaining offshore express strong willingness to leverage offshore experience for the benefit of New Zealand.

Kea World Class New Zealand alumni Rob Fyfe also welcomes the report, saying that the frustration of returnees and the difficulty posed by a closed border and managed isolation system, is a key message coming through loud and clear.

“New Zealand is currently experiencing acute skilled labour shortages across a number of industries and roles. As this survey demonstrates, there is a long queue of highly skilled, experienced and motivated Kiwi expats keen to return to Aotearoa, as soon as the current border and MIQ requirements can be safely reduced. This expat talent pool will be immensely valuable to New Zealand’s Covid recovery, we should be doing everything possible to maximise this opportunity,” Fyfe said.

In relation to skilled returnees, the report indicates we are far from fully utilising the opportunity in front of us with a distinct mismatch between what Kiwi employers are seeking and the experience of offshore candidates. While 46% of businesses indicate international experience is highly desired and a plus, only 38% of returnees expect local businesses to fully understand and value their overseas experience.

And while local employers suggest that returnee wage expectations are too high, returnees say they’ve already discounted themselves to meet the market.

In fact, 52% of returnees indicate they expect to earn less in New Zealand than they did offshore.

Yet, of those who have returned, and who remain offshore, a very high proportion still hope to ‘give back’ to our nation, with 45% expressing strong willingness to leverage offshore experience for the benefit of New Zealand.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, director of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures and president-elect of the International Science Council, applauded the findings of the Kea Welcome Home survey in November and spoke of the huge economic and cultural potential of these returnees. Now, he’s saying that we need to move fast to welcome our expats home or the opportunity may be missed.

“The window of opportunity for New Zealand to attract talent is evaporating as the developed world becomes vaccinated.

“Other countries, like Singapore, have moved swiftly, turning Covid-19 into opportunities to their advantage. Start-up and scale-up are very different, and scale-up requires globally orientated expertise we are short in – we need to work with these returning Kiwis or risk being left behind,” Gluckman said.

However returnees are only half the story. The Kea report shows that of the 59% of Kiwi choosing to remain offshore, half of these are wanting to contribute to New Zealand in some meaningful way – with 18% interested in board and advisory positions. Their understanding of international business, the latest in technology, business processes, and trading in foreign markets all serves to give New Zealand organisations a real head start – if utilised!

Truslove says that the report reflects an enormous opportunity for New Zealand.

“The talent, creativity and experience of our offshore Kiwi is outstanding and would be transformational for our economy providing they can be effectively engaged,” Truslove says.

“Their experience overseas means they can bring new perspectives and insights to our businesses, giving us the ability to continue to innovate and produce world-class products and services. It is up to the employers, trustees and entrepreneurs to engage with these exploring Kiwi, to make them welcome and to recognise the potential they present.

“New Zealand won international respect for its pandemic response, but now we need to make the most of this ‘once in a generation’ opportunity, and act now!” she said.


Pictured above: Kea CEO, Toni Truslove.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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