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28 July 2017

New Zealand is luring the world’s tech talent over by flying them there for free

When people think of moving to New Zealand, they think of pretty images of lush greenery and snow-capped mountains. And then there’s the draw of great work-life balance — and shelter from an apocalypse, no less.

But to build itself into a technology hub, it needs the specialised workforce. 

Wellington, the country’s capital with a population just under 500,000, is working on that by offering 100 tech workers a free week-long trip to the city, under its LookSee Wellington programme.

The unconventional marketing plan will fly you out, if you agree to pre-arranged job interviews with companies in the area. 

It seems to have worked. LookSee Wellington said it received 48,000 applications, crashing the website at least once, with 63 of the 93 people who came on the trip in May accepting job offers.

The offices of Springload, a digital agency in Wellington.

The offices of Springload, a digital agency in Wellington.

One of these people is 31-year-old Darren Kidd from Perth, Australia, who will be moving with his wife Alyssa and daughter Isobel to Wellington on Monday after long having the “travel bug.”

Kidd has spent most of his life in Perth, where he attended university and worked in various IT roles throughout the past ten years. He had been to New Zealand for a holiday, and had such a great time in the country that he signed up to a mailing list for jobs a year ago.

Then one day in February, a promotional email for LookSee Wellington dropped in his inbox. 

“It was too good an opportunity to not go and apply,” he said. The move made sense for him and his wife, whose daughter is only one. 

“We didn’t want to be too mean to aunties and uncles and grandparents, and move too far away,” he explained.

As an Australian, Kidd is in the minority of people who came on the junket. The majority, to little surprise, are from the U.S. (29 people), followed by Canada (9), UK (8), and India (7). 

“It was a fairly easy decision.”

“A lot of people were keen to experience life somewhere else in the world,” Kidd said of the people on the trip. “They sold the Wellington lifestyle really well, everyone was super keen to try it out and see if it was for them, and I think for those who got offers it was a fairly easy decision.”

Kidd said the trip itself had a very “tight timeline,” where he spent the Sunday morning getting over his jetlag on a bus tour, then whisked to an interview a day over four days. 

He ended up accepting a developer role with accounting software firm Xero, because he wanted to return to his roots as a software engineer, and was enamoured with the company’s culture.

“Everything I experienced in their offices, or read, or talked about them has just been saturated with a love of their customers and a love of the people who work there,” Kidd said.

The Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA) spent NZ$300,000 (US$224,000) on the campaign. It’s not a cheap exercise, but it said the investment would boost to the region’s economy, and Wellington’s profile as a tech hub.

The ultimate test, perhaps, is on just how many will stay for the long-haul. But for Kidd, admittedly “a bit stressed” by the logistics of the move, is raring to go.

“There’s so much excitement, but of course a little bit of nervousness. It’s a long way to go, and there’s no turning back after this,” Kidd said.

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