Migrant Tales – Engineer says New Zealand is “not a place to work”

Engineers can do a lot better outside of New Zealand

Engineers can do a lot better outside of New Zealand

Continuing in our series of Migrant Tales – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.

Today’s tale was sent in by Robert, a migrant who first came to New Zealand in 1973 as a young engineer.

After a spell in Europe for many years he returned to New Zealand as a senior engineer in 1994, with a great deal of professional experience under his belt.

He found the deterioration in working practices and professional standards shocking.

He also says that work/life balance has been eroded during his absence, with many people expected to work in excess of 57 hours a week for 37.5 hours pay. This is in direct contrast to the publicity currently being targeted at engineers. They are being attracted to New Zealand with promises of a “better work life balance” that will more than  “make up” for a drop in salary, something that has been going on for years.

Robert’s comments give an insight into why so many of New Zealand’s brightest young engineers and scientists leave for higher salaries and modern working conditions overseas; and why so many migrants are unhappy working in New Zealand.

In my experience the Country changed for the worst during the 1980s whilst I was working overseas. When I came to New Zealand in 1973 as a young engineer I went to work for a consulting engineers and found the atmosphere very encouraging and welcoming.

Our contracts were for 37.5 hrs per week and on the rare occasions when we had to work overtime we got paid extra. The Management treated us as professionals and once we had discussed our design solutions with our Superiors we just got on with the job because we were trusted to do it right. We were encouraged to be innovative but always with the practicalities in mind. The cheapest solution was usually rejected for a superior innovative solution, Our clients sometimes would insist on an inferior solution because that was what they were used to and wanted.

For family reasons I went back to Europe intending to be away for three to four years but actually did not return until 1994. During that time I was a Senior Engineer involved in the design of the services for several shopping malls, 4 Airports including the Falklands Island one, a 10 operating theatre addition to a major London hospital and my last project before returning was an Anglo/German collaboration on the most technically advanced building in Europe.

I was completely shocked by the deterioration of working conditions in this Country that had occurred during my absence. Gone was the overtime, and working weeks in excess of 40 hours were the norm. I also had thought that the knowledge I had brought with me would be welcomed by the Company as an asset. I was soon disabused of this notion when on the first project I was working on I wanted to incorporate the latest energy saving techniques and was bluntly told not to waste the client’s money as power was far too cheap in this Country!

Next run-in I had with Management was over the design of a lecture theatre, using the same ventilation principles that had just been installed in two European Opera Houses that had just been refurnished, because there was no-one in the Company that could check my work as my knowledge was unique! I stood my ground on this one and the system worked perfectly, as I knew it would.

The final straw for me came when I asked the Directors for additional Draughts people because our workforce was over tired working 48 hours per week and their productivity was dropping off markedly. I was forcefully informed that the average hours worked in the equivalent department in Auckland was 57 per week and in Singapore 60. The message was quite clear, I was the slacker only doing 49 hours per week.

Since leaving them I have observed New Zealand industry largely continuing to decline with these common themes.

Firstly, productivity is increased by making your workforce do 50 hours per week for 37.5 hours pay.

Secondly, only use the cheapest solution because anything else will affect the bottom line and maximising profit is the only goal of Management.

Thirdly, do not use Overseas innovative ideas until your competition has tried it.

Fourthly, your workers will be more productive if you keep yelling at them rather than setting the example yourself.

It is no wonder that our brightest young engineers and scientist leave for position overseas where they will be respected and better remunerated, thus ensuring they have no reason to return home.

Until there is a major paradigm shift in the attitude of Managers and Government departments, New Zealand is not going to get the productivity increase it desperately needs and is not a place to work.

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3 thoughts on “Migrant Tales – Engineer says New Zealand is “not a place to work”

  1. As a bachelor student in the IT field, i can tell you it is dead hard to look for work experience, even some of the IT graduates who i know studied with me at Weltec have completely left the country.

  2. I was surprised to find out that the “40 hour” work week [with overtime after 40] was not in effect in NZ. It was typical to work 45-50 hours/week, all at straight time.

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