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Wellington rain dances for the “man drought”

  • June 18th, 2008

Fran O’Sullivan reports on man drought warnings by Bernard Salt, a Melbourne-based KPMG partner described as a demographer.

If he offered any choreography for a rain dance, Fran’s report does not mention it.

Wellingtonians have been thinking about these issues for longer than most New Zealanders. We should be ahead on cloud seeding to end man droughts. Whether we are or not there will surely be plenty of rain dancer proposals to come. Salt seems to have considered the proposals from the forum were not much better.

This time the drought warnings are for New Zealand as a whole, not just for the women of Wellington. Fran is one of them, despite most Wellingtonians not seeing her work. She’s in her own league combining serious business/political journalism.

The online Herald has not reproduced a graph from the article. But even without it the article is sobering for those of us who’ve until now found the ‘man drought’ idea vaguely reassuring (value being entirely a function of scarcity etc etc).

"… the god of demography is certainly not smiling on [Australia or New Zealand]: Particularly New Zealand which faces a major contraction in the traditional working population (15-64 years) by 2022 and is also experiencing a "man drought" as more young men stay overseas longer than their female counterparts to pursue international opportunities.

When the man drought first emerged, news stories focused on the difficulties young women might experience finding a male partner. But the workforce effect is more profound.

As the graph indicates there are 10 per cent less men than women at age 35 – the time when many are coming into their peak earning and tax-paying period. … too many New Zealanders and Australians are now spending their best taxpaying years overseas, thus providing little return on the 25 years of taxpayer funds that have gone into their education and upbringing."

John Key mentioned the problem in answer to a question at a breakfast meeting this morning "There’s no future for New Zealand in being a giant training school for overseas"

The article goes on:

"New migrants are being attracted. But the people both countries are losing are among the best and brightest.

A number of avenues were suggested by [the wekend’s Australia New Zealand leadership Forum] participants for reversing the trend….

* Student loan amnesties.

* Taxation incentives.

* Roadshows to major capitals to persuade young Kiwis and Aussies to return

Salt contends those "tactical responses"  will not be enough."

Fran’s report ends on that note.

In my opinion our Council was on the right track several years ago in looking at what makes cities attractive to the kinds of people who attract others. They drew on the ideas of Richard Florida ( he’s long been on my blog roll) as to what makes decision makers want to live in a particular place.

Essentially they want to be where there are others like them, where they are challenged, inspired, valued, and amused by and with their peers.

Porter’s cluster theory is consistent with the Florida theory (explaining that industry leadership is most often associated with clusters of competing and complementary specialist businesses – not the "critical mass" fanatasy of those who want a Meat Globalco, or another Fonterra).

We’ve got most of the physical things that these dynamic enticers like. Our ranking in the city liveability scales show that. So what is the missing ingredient for the kinds of people that our entrepreneurs and leaders in science, the arts, etc want to be around?

I’ll venture some suggestions on the things we need to work on – appetite for risk, the gamble of new ventures, excitement over change, confidence that problems can be overcome, that risks will not overwhelm, respect outweighing envy for success.

The unlikely and unexpected success of cities and people and companies in out of the way places (Austin – Texas, Denver -Colorado, Portland – Oregan, Helsinki) seems to me to have had a lot to do with their good fortune in each having for a time had a "gold rush" period, which drew in the kinds of people who can stare down the status quo naysayers. Bold people are needed to outweigh the kinds who bury projects and proposals under precautionary procedures and risk aversion.

We’ve had some great gold rush moments recently in Wellington – like while the harbour development was free of the dead hand of the Council, the success of Gareth and Sam Morgan (primarily Trade-Me), Lloyd Morrison with Infratil, the Peter Jackson spawned industry. They all inspire, showing the rewards of giving good people scope to innovate.

We must ensure such people are not worn down by a climate of petty restrictions.

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