Auckland’s housing problems are going to change your business. Here’s how:

In this guest post our HR Manager, Craig Scott-Hill, talks about why Powershop made the conscious decision to set up its call centre in regional New Zealand.

Auckland has a brain problem

Lots of noise is made about winners and losers in Auckland’s superheated housing market. A generation locked out of home ownership. A government unwilling to act. A country in crisis.
But what about employers? The risks to this group are real, and could be one of the most overlooked aspects of the debate.

Consider this statistic. Three quarters of Auckland employers say they have lost employees to other locations in New Zealand over the year to June, according to a major recruitment survey.
This fits with media reports from places like Canterbury and the Wairarapa of a new influx of people who have deliberately chosen to relocate away from Auckland.

This is a profound departure from the demographic trends that have shaped New Zealand over the past half century. And it’s a huge wake up call for employers.

Just look overseas. London’s talent exodus is well documented. San Francisco and other US cities have been grappling with the problem for years. Companies that have long relied on a steady pool of skilled talent are having to change where they locate operations, hire staff and carry out recruitment activity.

If we look back just a couple of years, there was lots of talk of New Zealanders coming back home, the ‘reverse brain drain’. Most were settling in Auckland, but now the housing market in Auckland is ‘superheated’. Like other world cities, Auckland is starting to experience its own talent exodus.

A few months ago I spoke at Victoria University about Powershop’s role in Wellington’s digital economy. Auckland came up during the discussion and some in the room suggested Aucklanders wouldn’t leave to come to Wellington as they were afraid of being “locked out” of the housing market.

Granted, Auckland is a desirable place to live. But for those unsatisfied with having their future dictated by house values, taking on huge amounts of debt or sitting in traffic for hours every day, it may be time to make the move. Recently the New Zealand Herald featured a young, highly educated family, on a six figure income in Auckland who relocated to Wellington because they could not get ahead in our largest city.

But there’s a silver lining

At Powershop, we made the conscious decision to locate our call centre in regional New Zealand, well before Auckland housing became a national talking point. For us it was a smart business move which has paid off in spades.

We set up shop in Masterton, a city of 21,000. Like most regional centres, it has a well educated and motivated population. It also has a great climate and outdoor environment – people tend to leave for economic, rather than lifestyle opportunities.

In return for providing long term employment prospects, we’ve achieved near nil turnover in our call centre, a feat almost unheard of in the industry. Our customer satisfaction rates, among the highest for any power company, speak for themselves.

As one the largest employers in Masterton, our presence has returned benefits to that community. Apart from just providing jobs, many of the people who work for us have since decided to remain in Masterton and bring up their families, instead of commuting to Wellington and eventually relocating.

In short, it makes business sense for us to be in the regions. The only question remaining for us is why more large employers aren’t following suit. More affordable housing, shorter commutes, no parking issues, all these factors help to boost morale, productivity and performance.

Auckland’s brain drain is a fact of life, but it can also be a win-win for the regions and employers. It’s time more of us started to seriously invest in our regions.

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