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Source: Why do we hire so few interns in NZ? – NZRise

Trent Mankelow says New Zealand companies and organisations hired 352 interns last summer. That’s not many when you consider more than 2000 students applied for positions. Applying takes a fair amount of effort, so there are many disappointed students.

While the business of taking on interns can be open to abuse, it’s an essential part of any programme to match companies and organisations with potential employment candidates.

Mankelow runs Summer of Tech, a programme that aims to find internships for students. It is clear that not enough New Zealand companies are using tech interns.

Weak excuses

In his post at the NZ Rise website, Mankelow looks at the reasons employers gave choose to take on interns.

Now there’s a problem right there. When customers choose not to buy something they often offer plausible sounding reasons without revealing the thinking behind their decisions.

It’s stretching credibility to think prospective employers don’t do the same when choosing not to hire interns.

So what they tell Mankelow may not be the real reasons companies choose not to take on young employees for a summer-long test drive.

Not all the reasons are good. What none of them are going to admit is that they are shortsighted, lazy or cheapskate to take part. Some are free riders. They’ll cynically let other companies take the interns they may hope to hire later.

Not a good look

Even if you take the reasons given to Mankelow at face value, they don’t always look good. Take the idea that interns cost too much. According to Mankelow a typical intern costs less than $10,000 in wages. Companies are able to get government grants through Callaghan Innovation for almost that amount if they hire students for research and development projects.

In other words you can get someone with tech skills, even if those skills are still unpolished, at a bargain price. Perhaps $1500 net cost after the grant.

It stretches credibility to suggest a manager can’t get that much value from an intern over a summer. In tech, one good idea well executed can be worth far more than $10,000, let along $1500 or so. Bosses would normally kill for that kind of return on investment.

Which brings us to this year. Sure, the economy is likely to be in a down cycle. But unless circumstances change fast, companies with skilled vacancies to fill are not going to be able to recruit ready-made employees from overseas. This would be a good time to bring in capable young minds to power through any work backlog and line up potential employees for a year or so later.

So, if you are reading this and you run a business, you’ve got about three or four months to come up with a worthwhile summer research and development project.

IBM Gini RomettyEarlier this year IBM told remote employees they must return to the office or leave the company.

It’s a turnaround. IBM pioneered allowing employees to work from home. At times as many as more than a third of the firm’s staff worked at places away from company offices.

The company often lectures others on the merits of remote work. Company marketing describes telework as the future. Moreover, IBM sells products enabling its customers to offer remote work to their employees.

IBM’s remote work policy was popular with staff. Many talented people either opted to join the company or decided to stay put because they could work from home. It’s powerful for working women with families and just as good for dads who like to see their children more often.

Productivity or IBM’s staff costs?

The official reason for the change is that working together in one place helps productivity, teamwork and morale.

There’s something in this. Collaboration is easier when co-workers sit across the aisle. Video conference calls are productive, but so are well organised face-to-face sessions. Chance meetings at the coffee station can spark fresh thinking.

Yet, you can’t help wonder if IBM’s move is about cutting staff numbers. Many remote workers may decide it is too hard to move home in order to keep their job. Some of the office demands mean people have to move long distances to keep their jobs.

There’s research, some sponsored by IBM, showing teleworkers are more productive than office-bound workers. Which argument are we supposed to believe? Can we trust anything the company says on the subject?

Ominous

Yahoo made a similar back-to-the-office move. It was unpopular. Many talented staff members quit. We all know how well that story ended.

There’s a practical problem for IBM workers in places like New Zealand. Some specialist roles are shared with Australia. There are ANZ managers are in New Zealand, others across the Tasman. They shuttle between locations and make a lot of conference calls. What happens to them under the new rules? The fear is they will be under pressure to move closer to the regional HQ in Sydney. That will not go down well with New Zealand customers.

Remote working became popular with large companies about a decade ago as suburban broadband improved. Video conferencing went from being difficult to practical.

Senior managers across the technology and other industries loved the idea of remote work as they thought it would save costs. In theory, offices needed less real estate and fewer support services when workers were elsewhere.

Things didn’t work out that way. Few savings materialised.The other part of this equation is that management went through a stage of being output-focused. That is, they were more concerned with what employees produced than in keeping close tabs on them all day long. If someone produced a report in their pyjamas or by sitting next to the pool that wasn’t a problem so long as the work was good. It seems the pendulum has swung back to command and control.

Harvey Norman

Radio New Zealand reports Harvey Norman shoppers ‘may have a case’:

Rainey Collins Lawyers managing partner Alan Knowsley said if the customers did not agree to the terms and conditions they may have a case.

“They could go off to the Disputes Tribunal and seek to enforce their contract and then Harvey Norman will have to prove that the person should have known the deal was too good to be true,” Mr Knowsley said.

“Some retailers obviously advertise regularly that things are 60-80 percent off and that sort of retailer would be really hard pushed to prove that that deal wasn’t valid.”

According to the company a technical glitch on its website meant furniture and other items were sold at prices way below their nominal value. That’s exactly what consumers have been trained to expect in ‘sales’.

Now Harvey Norman doesn’t want to honour customer contracts. Imagine how that would work if the boot was on the other foot.

This case confirms what many already suspect: that the Australian-owned chain operates in poor faith. Apart from the legality and immorality of offering goods at low prices, taking money, forming contracts and then not delivering, this sends a loud “not trustworthy” message to the market.

If Harvey Norman decided to honour those glitch contracts in full it may have lost a tidy sum of money but there would be no long-term damage. Now it faces the possibility of those losses anyway, plus legal costs, ill will and negative publicity.

That’s bad business practice and awful management.

... and yet NZ retailers still wonder why shoppers head to overseas stores on the internet. 

Garry Roberton reports a fall in New Zealand tech job advertisements in his latest regular Trends update for the IITP Techblog. This drop in vacancies comes at a time when the overall demand for tech skills remains strong.

He writes:

Unfortunately, the positive business sentiment is not backed up in terms of the number of Seek ICT job adverts for this month, with a drop of 16 percent on April’s figure of 2483, and 8 percent down on May 2013 (Fig.2 below). This could be due to a dip in business confidence, possibly as a result of 2014 being an election year, although there may be many reasons for the sudden drop in Seek ICT advertised jobs. Perhaps the unexpected return of New Zealanders from Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, with the requisite ICT knowledge, skills and experience are taking up many of the available positions.

It’s not just Seek. Roberton also notes a 13 percent fall in tech jobs advertised on TradeMe. The sharp fall in May is out of synch with the pattern recent years. We usually see ads climb towards the middle of the year before falling off as summer approaches.

Aberration

As Roberton points out, the May 2014 fall in advertised tech jobs could be an aberration.

It may also be due to the way recruitment companies operate. There’s not always a direct link between vacancies and advertisements. It could also be large numbers of overseas New Zealanders returning home and an inflow of immigrants looking for work. This means recruiters have a relatively full pipeline and don’t need to spend money on advertising.

There comes a time in every manager’s life when a junior oversteps the mark.

If the offence is too serious to go unnoticed, yet not bad enough to crank up formal discipline, you need to have words with the person.

How you handle this will have a long-term impact on your relationship with the junior – it can also have a wider impact on how you interact with the rest of your colleagues.

Take care not to alienate

Aim to deliver a powerful, unambiguous message reinforcing good behaviour while correcting or halting bad behaviour. You need to do this without alienating or demotivating the junior.

What’s more, you need to do it within the context of company policy and employment law. Balancing these forces requires a subtle approach and a workable game plan.

It only takes a minute

The One Minute Manager suggests a useful basic template for disciplining subordinates.

Although the book’s corny approach borders on the embarrassing, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson offer useful advice on administering day-to-day management discipline.

The “One Minute Warning” goes like this:

  • Keep the carpeting short – there’s a reason we call it the one minute warning,
  • Check with the person concerned that you have the story straight before saying anything more,
  • Quickly reprimand the behaviour, not the person,
  • Let them know exactly how you feel about the incident,
  • Pause while this sinks in and then…
  • Praise the person and remind them of their strengths.

Beyond the basics

While this is a good basic template, it doesn’t always work.

The One Minute Manager was written for Americans. They take certain workplace ideas as understood, these don’t necessary translate into other cultures.

Workers in New Zealand and Australia are generally stroppier than their US counterparts, are more argumentative. We have been conditioned for better or worse by a more confrontational industrial climate.

One Minute Bollocking

In the early 1980s, a British friend of mine refined this technique, which she described as a “One Minute Bollocking“. The difference being at the time Pom employees were less susceptible to the kind of empty flattery that goes down well with Americans.

She followed the Blanchard and Johnson recipe up to the last step where she simply told the person that this wouldn’t affect their career prospects and that she knew they were capable of delivering the goods: “Now get out and get on with your work”.

Although British employees are often more deferential than their antipodian counterparts, I’ve found, depending on the motivational needs of the person in question, the British style bollocking generally goes down better than the saccharine ‘warning’.