LookSee – Attracting tech talent to Wellington

In May 2017, the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA) ran 'LookSee Week' to attract tech sector candidates to jobs in the capital. The campaign attracted 48,000 candidates from around to apply for 100 jobs in Wellington's tech sector.

Suncorp talks to David Jones, General Manager Business Growth and Innovation at WREDA, about the LookSee campaign and how to attract the people you need to meet your business success goals.

Where did the LookSee initiative come from?

LookSee Wellington came about as a result of consultation with the Wellington tech sector and our recruitment partner, Workhere New Zealand. The clear message from tech employers was that a scarcity of experienced, mid- to senior-level talent was the number one impediment to their continued growth and development. 

The tech sector is a critical growth industry for Wellington and New Zealand as a whole. As it was an issue common to the entire sector, they were looking to WREDA to intervene, as the economic development agency for the region. 

"The scarcity of experienced, mid- to senior-level talent was the number one impediment to continued growth and development"

Workhere brought the concept of the career trip to Wellington to the table, and we knew swiftly that it was worth pursuing. We worked with them to develop the concept, bringing the expertise of our destination marketing teams to refine and enhance the message and creative. We also made a significant funding commitment, in particular to support the key costs of flights & accommodation. 

Lastly, we brought Immigration NZ and industry body NZ Tech to the table, with their expertise, networks and a measure of investment.

Why isn't New Zealand good at developing and retaining its own talent?

I’d challenge the premise of that question. I’d contend that New Zealand is good at developing talent. We recently topped a Worldwide Education Index from the Economic Intelligence Unit as having the best education system in the world for preparing students for the future. That said, we can always strive to do better, and shaping work-ready graduates is a continued driver for us, the tertiary sector and business. 

The size of New Zealand and Wellington is always going to be a challenge for talent.  Our size, location and quality of life is what sets us apart globally. Yet, on the flip side, it can also be a challenge to offering the work diversity many desire.  I believe we will increasingly see Wellington be a place that hits the Nirvana of being big enough to offer top career opportunities, particularly in tech and creative, whilst still retaining our quality of life USP.

In terms of retention, partly we’re always going to have a population that wants to explore the world. That instinct is in our blood – we’re a nation of pioneers, by waka, tall ship, steamer or plane. We’re always going to look over the horizon. And we have had issues in the past with our best & brightest seeking the excitement and earning potential of bigger economies. That’s less of an issue now, and we’ve seen migration flows to Australia slowing right down and even reversing. 

That’s partly come from our relatively robust post-GFC economic performance, and our perceived relative safety in an uncertain era. As the digital economy continues to provide ever greater opportunity for Kiwi businesses to succeed globally from right here, we’ll see greater professional opportunities, and better talent retention. 

In the meantime, however, it’s critical that programmes like LookSee exist to meet immediate needs and ensure we retain the businesses themselves that will be central to our economic evolution this century

"I believe we will see Wellington be a place that hits the Nirvana of being big enough to offer top career opportunities, particularly in tech and creative, whilst still retaining our quality of life USP"

What was it that drew so much global interest?

Credit has to go to the work of a combined marketing and PR team that included our internal team, those of our project partners and agencies working offshore. Media coverage was the only way the LookSee Wellington campaign was going to get the reach and penetration we needed in a diverse range of international markets.

Timing was also key and we launched to coincide with geopolitical issues in the US as a result of the Presidential election and Brexit in the UK, for example.  All up, the equivalent advertising value of our generated media coverage was over $10 million. That gives you some sense of the scale of investment we would have had to put in to get generate the same level of awareness globally via an ‘above the line’ campaign. Of course, that’s well beyond all possibility. The entire budget for the campaign via all partners was around $800k. 

As intended, what hooked the media was the attention-grabbing component of a “free trip to New Zealand” on offer. That proved to be a hugely clickable headline! We worked hard to place the story in key markets and key media, and from there the secondary coverage just took off, and – like much about LookSee – far exceeded our expectations.

How was Wellington's unique support network a contributing factor?

From the start, Wellington’s tech sector approached us in networked, collaborative terms. “We all share this issue, so rather than compete to fix it for ourselves, how can we work together to really address it?” 

Wellington also really came together to show off our region’s lifestyle to the initial group of candidates who came over for a week of interviews. From breweries, to mountain biking tours, Te Papa, Weta and so forth, everyone understood the value in putting our best foot forward and showing them a great time.

Of course, there was some competition between employers for the very best of the candidates, but that’s entirely as it should be! Feedback from candidates who were here for the LookSee Week in May 2017, and those who have since landed, is that Wellington’s tech ecosystem is extremely supportive and collaborative.  That’s a great fillip for us here in Wellington.

What do you think are the key learnings others could apply?

Think outside the box. Put aside the traditional tools you have at your disposal and look at your challenges with fresh eyes. Be disruptive.

Plus, collaborate with people who create innovative solutions to entirely different problems. They’ll see things from different and surprising angles. Sometimes there’s an astonishingly simple solution that’s never been tried. LookSee essentially came from identifying and articulating that the biggest obstacle to recruiting the world’s best talent was that New Zealand is far away and hard/expensive to get to – even for a ‘look see’. So, the thinking was ‘what if we just remove that obstacle?’ 

"Put aside the traditional tools you have at your disposal and look at your challenges with fresh eyes"

How does WREDA help businesses that really want to move the dial?

We try to do this in a number of ways. 

First, we believe the business ecosystem is on a path of growth. We want to assist as many businesses as we can and be part of that growth through our own intervention or facilitating others to support.  We work with businesses to help them source talented individuals to grow their business, be that students, graduates, interns or high-end professionals.  

Next we want to grow businesses by helping them access grants or professional support to help them grow in New Zealand and, increasingly, internationally.  We either do this through programmes we run, signposts to others who are better placed or through our subsidiary, Creative HQ, who are focused on early stage businesses and entrepreneurs.  

We focus on growing sectors of industry across the Wellington region that can have greatest impact.  Tech and the creative sector are central to this, and with that in mind we run Screen Wellington to engage the film sector in its entirety.  Finally, we also engage the existing bigger businesses of Wellington to understand what they need to remain, and ideally grow, in Wellington.  

There are always new and innovative initiatives we are exploring to supplement this core work, such as considering the economic resilience of Wellington as a location susceptible to major natural disasters.  Our challenge is to turn that challenge into an opportunity and asset for our economy.

Suncorp New Zealand would like to thank David and WREDA for sharing this story.

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