Pro Features

High Demand for hi-tech talent

Hawke’s Bay’s technology sector is on a roll but are there enough skilled staff wanting to work here?

Recruiting the skilled staff needed to grow a business has often been one of the top challenges for both start-ups and established technology companies in the Bay.

But there are signs that’s beginning to change. The skyrocketing cost of living in centres such as Auckland has made Hawke’s Bay a more appealing option for software developers and other technology professionals. The establishment of ‘tech hubs’ and factors including improving broadband speeds have also made the region more enticing.

And of course, there’s the lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want to live here if the numbers added up?

Among the local technology firms feeling confident about attracting more staff to the Bay is Re-Leased, a locally-founded cloud-based property management software company that expects to grow its Hawke’s Bay team of 15 staff over the next six months, as part of a global expansion.

“What’s important to tech companies is being able to attract talent,” says Re-Leased founder and CEO Tom Wallace.

“There’s so much competition so you need to be able to offer potential staff members things that are going to attract them. That’s obviously a competitive salary and a great lifestyle, which Hawke’s Bay can offer. They want somewhere that’s a nice space to work.”

For Re-Leased, its “nice space” is the redeveloped Ahuriri site it shares with Xero, NOW and the Tech Collective, a collaborate environment – complete with on-site Adoro café – that is also home to several smaller technology companies.

In the company’s recent hiring experience, being part of a tech hub is one factor that’s helped Re-Leased sign up former Hawke’s Bay people who are delighted to have the opportunity to return home, says Tom.

“One of them wanted to move back with his children but didn’t think there would be any jobs available, then he went online and was surprised to see that we were advertising a role. He’s a really senior developer whom we’re over the moon to be able to bring back.

“Hawke’s Bay now really has something to offer – we’ve got tech hubs, we’re got an amazing place to live and a great place to work. Now it’s just a matter of really educating New Zealand about the opportunity.”

If Xero and Kiwibank can do it …

Xero founder and Hawke’s Bay resident Rod Drury says his company expects to continue growing its Hawke’s Bay headcount after opening an office at the tech hub last year.

“Our staff are loving it in there. We’ve had quite a few go and work there for a few days and I think this year we’ll start seeing some of our Auckland and Wellington staff migrating there. It’s proving you can do high-quality jobs in the provinces, so that’s all working well.”

Rod says many of the good developers Xero hires are in their 20s and more interested in the “urban lifestyle” rather than setting themselves up in places like Hawke’s Bay.

But there is also an older staff demographic who are attracted to the region, whether for lifestyle, family or economic reasons.

“We’re finding that a lot of our people who are moving are people we’ve had with us for a long time, so they know how the system works, they know the business, and they have the skills to be productive. And we can support them in their changing lifestyle requirements.”

That leads on to a wider opportunity for Hawke’s Bay, he says: pitching the benefits of living here to corporates who could establish a presence in the region for fifty to a few hundred staff.“

You’ve got to tell that message not just to the employers but to the employees in Auckland so that they’re demanding it internally: ‘Hey, why can’t we come to Hawke’s Bay?’.”

Rod says the concept had been proven by Xero and Kiwibank, which opened a 100-person Hastings office in 2015 designed to ensure business continuity if a disaster hit its main facilities in Auckland or Wellington.

“I think we’ve moved from theory to practice. We’re seeing it now with the likes of Kiwibank and Xero – it’s actually really good practice that’s stacked up. We’re always waiting for those examples, but now we’re seeing those so we’re in good shape,” he says.

“Both us and Kiwibank open our doors to show other companies it’s the way. [When we’re talking to government departments] in Wellington or Auckland we talk about our Hawke’s Bay call centre, how it’s working for our team, how we have a good supply of loyal staff, and it gives us good resiliency from Wellington as well.”

A place where talent wants to live

Another Hawke’s Bay technology start- up looking for more employees is cloud- based industrial data monitoring company DataNow.

Also based at the Ahuriri tech hub, DataNow is planning to raise capital this year and increase staff numbers from four to fourteen within the next three years.

The company was founded by electrical engineer Erik van den Hout and its customers include WineWorks, Ravensdown and Analytical Research Laboratories (ARL).

Erik says this year’s capital raising will enable DataNow to bring new talent into the team, allowing it to continue to develop its product and service.

Business consultant Ben Deller, the former head of marketing at NOW, has been working with DataNow and says while the expanding technology sector is encouraging more skilled people to consider moving to Hawke’s Bay, the talent pool in the region remains small.

“The late, great scientist Sir Paul Callaghan talked about how New Zealand needed to be a place where talent wants to live. You want to offer all the qualities you can to attract the talent you know you’re going to need – in the case of DataNow, 10 more people over the next three years, which we know is going to be a challenge,” Ben says.

He and Erik say being part of the tech hub had provided invaluable opportunities to bounce ideas off like-minded people as they developed the business’s growth strategy. The location would also be a plus for attracting new staff, they say.