Susan Wood interviews Tracey Lee, Greg Hall and Tony Alexander
SUSAN Tracey, you talk about re-entry shock. What is it?
TRACEY LEE - Sociologist and Brand Strategist
Just before I get into that, because I think as soon as we hear "re-entry" in New Zealand, a dark cloud kind of passes over. Like, "Oh no, people coming home. It's bad coming home." Re-entry shock is something very common if you've been away. It can happen after shorter trips, obviously coming home after longer stays away, there's some re-entry adjustment that happens. It's quite natural, and we kind of need to de-stigmatise it. You're coming away from your friends, from the lives that you've forged. It's going to take a little while to get through there. And after the re-entry kind of shock, there's also this return recalibration which happens, which, you know, can take a couple of years to really negotiate.
SUSAN So there are common themes with the New Zealanders returning, and we're really talking about people who are not- haven't- these are slightly older ones who've got good careers, been away five, sort of 10 years. They're coming back probably for family reasons most of the time, aren't they? Are there sort of common themes, though? Common issues that they have?
TRACEY Yeah, it's interesting. I think one of the reasons that it's become more of an important thing is that historically we went away for, you know, two, three years, and coming back was more about knuckling down and having to get a first job, and it wasn't nearly as exciting. What we're seeing now is that people are staying away upwards of five years - seven, 10 - so what they're coming back with is sometimes partners, sometimes children. Certainly, they've been professionally advancing their careers. So the things that they're dealing with are quite different. They do come home, you know, if you've got kids, thinking about children and being closer to grandparents. But I think we default to that. Somehow it's about beaches and kids at school, and, you know, we're coming back- certainly I like to think I'm far from retirement age. They're also coming back with ambitions of setting up their own companies-
SUSAN Which actually brings Greg in very nicely. I mean, you came back. You went to Wellington, then you went back to Japan, then you came to Auckland, then you set your company up. Is that re-entry shock or what was going on there?
GREG HALL - Entrepreneur
Well, I would say maybe a bit of recalibration, perhaps. But we came back, we had a crack at it, and our circumstances changed. So I don't think it's part of really understanding that whole bigger picture. But, you know, the reality was my wife is Japanese and she became pregnant, so we, as you do, often you feel more comfortable doing that back in your home country. So we went back to have our third child.
SUSAN How difficult, though - now you're back here and you've set the business up - has it been resettling for you?
GREG Well, it just takes a bit of time, you know. It's just about sort of working into it. There's a lot of challenges, but there's much more opportunity, I think. It's about being really positive in trying to make it work.
SUSAN Let me bring Tony Alexander in here. Good morning, Tony. Often educated - these are educated people who've had pretty good jobs. Are we missing out economically not doing more to harness that talent?
TONY ALEXANDER - BNZ Chief Economist
Yeah. It's the utilisation of them when they come back, I think, rather than inviting a few extra tens of thousands of the expats to come back to New Zealand. What they have is an expectation, I think, when they come back that the skills, the experience they've picked up overseas will be highly valued, that surely employers would be queuing up in order to offer them jobs. But what they find is that often the employers are just a wee bit shy of them. They're wary that maybe they're going to leave again within six, 12 months or so. They're wary that maybe they're just going to be a wee bit of an assertive nature for the culture that they may have in their company already in New Zealand. So the expatriates find that they're not as highly valued as they think they should be, quite frankly.
SUSAN Are they, Tony, too big for the companies as well? I mean, they may have worked in huge organisations dealing with enormous numbers. We don't have many companies of that scale in this country.
TONY Exactly. Often the people have risen to relatively high levels overseas and they want to get something comparable back in New Zealand. They know it's not going to be the same. They know they're going to be employing a broader range of skills. But, yes, at some of the senior levels there, there may only be three or four openings a year, so they do have to look at something a bit lower down, and as soon as you start thinking about that, you're thinking a bit more explicitly about, "OK, what will be my compensation for a lower-level job? Will it be more on the leisure side? Am I slipping too much towards the leisure side? Am I giving up too much by coming back to New Zealand?" Some of them then decide they'll go to Australia.
SUSAN Not something we've talked about much, and yet you've researched it. What prompted you to do this thesis?
TRACEY Yeah, I mean, I came back- I was going through the process myself. I was coming back after 12 years I was wanting to take a moment to recalibrate, if you will. And it seemed to me- I come from a brand research strategy background, and I was, like, look, I'd moved to China, which I'd managed to navigate, but there's a lot of information, network, support, shared knowledge and wisdom about how to do that. I got back and it was really clear to me that it's something we don't talk about. There's not necessarily the wisdom there to tap into. And what I really found when I started doing this project was that - and everyone was really interested in what other people were saying in my study - is that it's not something that we even know other people are going through. So it's something that New Zealanders often internalise, and they're, like, "OK, I'm having a tough time. I'm doing something wrong." And I think- And they are coming up against, as Tony touched on in terms of the professionalism, they are coming across this sense of "not invented here". Like, they'll say, "We're not really interested in your fancy foreign ways." So they're trying to negotiate this. I think not necessarily- I don't think necessarily everyone's looking for replicating their lives overseas. I certainly wasn't-
SUSAN But there is an element, and let me bring Greg in here, of over-romanticising, isn't there? You're overseas and it's a wet day in London, and we know what a wet day in London's like - it goes on forever! And you think, "Oh, New Zealand. It's summer. The beaches." Did you have any of that?
GREG Well, I mean, you've got to look at it fundamentally. You're coming home because it's home. You know, we're nature, we're part of the world, and you invariably want to come back to your home. So I think, really, there's a very small percentage of people who go out into the world and then make some other country their home or their new life. I mean, you're over there, you spend five or 10 or 15 years away, but there's always that sense of this is your home and where you're coming back to. So all the romanticism and all of that aside, there's just this basic sort of instinctual-
SUSAN It's an emotional heartstring, isn't it?
GREG It's a connection. Yeah, sure.
SUSAN Tony, can we quantify what we are not gaining by not doing what we should for returning migrants?
TONY Ooh, no, I don't think you could actually quantify that, no!
SUSAN Do you think it's a big number?
TONY I think it is a big number in that what New Zealand lacks- The investigations of management expertise in New Zealand show we tend to lack on the human resources side and on internationalisation of our companies. So often we may start a company in New Zealand, we look to expand overseas, but we come back with our tails between our legs because we're not used to the business culture, for instance, overseas. We may not be able to make good decisions about what distributers, franchise operators to pick up overseas. And yet what those expats can offer is a higher degree of connectivity with interested parties offshore, and of course a bit more of, I guess, an internationalised world view. They're a bit hardened. They know a bit more of the ways of people overseas. So this underutilisation is costing us in terms of this potential export growth.
SUSAN Tracey, you've got some ideas of how you think it should be.
TRACEY Yeah, and part of this I thought was going to be very much an infrastructural thing, that it was about- We understand what Michael was talking about before with new migrants; we understand that there's some settlement issues, there's some things we can do to help that. I thought it was going to be about that and about pathways to jobs.
SUSAN So give me some specifics of what you think we should be doing.
TRACEY So I think, number one- I mean, that's why it's great we're on today. Just talking about it, taking away the stigma of the fact that we don't talk about coming home, that it's OK that it's going to take a little while and it's tricky. Number two, I think welcoming return migrants. You know, I'm calling them return migrants because I want to call attention to the fact that we are coming back from having lived somewhere else and we do- you know, while we're from here, it's not second nature to us. So if people are coming back from a long time away, they don't necessarily have professional networks. They might not have their friendships still intact. You know, they've been away a long time, so they can hit the ground and kind of flail for quite a time to find their way, and my concern is if they don't actually land well, they're going to be boomerang migrants and take off. So things like putting everything in one place. Like, we've been talking about a "welcome home" landing pad where you can actually access- If you're thinking of coming home, here's the migration issues, here's some tax help, here's some- If you're bringing a partner from Japan- If you don't have professional networks, here's some folk in your area that'd be great to talk to. Here's some HR people that are sympathetic and interested in global-
SUSAN So you're really talking about reconnecting, aren't you? These are for people who really have lost their connections.
TRACEY Yeah, and, you know, we're in the business of networking, so I'm acutely aware that I'm not the norm, but folk do come back and, you know, they'll say, you know, "My brother-in-law was the only person I still knew." Their cohorts have moved off, and it can be a bit impenetrable for them to do that. And if you think about setting up a company, as Greg did, you don't necessarily know "how do I get finance?" Banks don't want to know when you don't have a history here.
SUSAN How did you do that without the connections? I mean, that's… You came back and you go, "Oh, I'm just going to start an ice cream company. Actually, a premium ice cream company."
GREG Well, I mean, from my perspective - I ran a large operation in Japan, so when I came, I thought, wrongly or rightly, that I wasn't actually going to be able to fit back into an employee scenario.
SUSAN Too big?
GREG Well, not necessarily too big, but it was, yeah, I mean, it just wasn't going to work. And there is this tremendous entrepreneurial spirit in New Zealand, and everybody says, "Oh, this is so great. You can do it." And I love that, and it's great for when you start, but the realities settle in once you've sort of got underway. But I did find that has been very much the struggle in terms of running a business is that not only is it hard to find those sort of supplies or networks or connections, but they are in reality very few of them. You know, I mean, we make ice cream, so we've got to put it in a punnet, and there's actually not many places that make those punnets.
SUSAN Punnets for ice cream. Let me end up with Tony. We are starting to see more of a brain gain coming back from Australia. Is that a trend you'd expect to continue as the Australian economy contracts?
TONY Yeah, not so much a trend, but definitely a cycle. There's a definite wave in terms of people going to Australia coming back, and what we're seeing at the moment is that net flow has changed by about 5000 in the past year. Fewer Kiwis are going; more are coming back. And I think we're going to see a lot more of that when we see our unemployment rate a year ago was 6.7%, now at 6.2%. We're heading down to 5%. A year ago Australia was 5%. They're now 5.5%. Maybe they're heading towards 6%. The bright light has gone out a bit in the minerals development sector, so, yeah, we're going to see a lot more Kiwis returning especially.
SUSAN I've got to get housing in because I've got you there. So is the price of housing and the publicity around it affecting returning migrants, or are they affecting the price of housing coming back with Aussie dollars, sterling, US Dollars?
TONY Actually, I'd say it is more that first thing, because when I was across a couple of months ago in London, I got predominantly questions always about the exchange rate - the Kiwi-pound, obviously, in particular. But, yeah, people still very surprised at the high prices of houses in New Zealand, and what I've been having to point out to them is that the longer they wait, the higher the price is likely to go, because this is overwhelmingly - as the other speakers have already said earlier on this morning - it's a supply issue. There's a shortage. The shortage is getting worse every month.
SUSAN Very good. Thank you so much for your time this morning, Tony Alexander, Greg Hall and Tracey Lee.
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