Bill McDonald, ConnectWellington

As a native Wellingtonian baby boomer, I’ve seen the city “grow up”. Its evolved from a grey, sleepy, public sector town of the seventies and early eighties so richly depicted in Roger Hall’s Gliding On, to a cool little capital with an active hospitality scene, brimming with cultural and creative activity, ripe with sporting endeavour. Its punching above its weight in business and commerce, being home to several of New Zealand’s better known success stories such as Z, TradeMe and Xero, a myriad of smaller scale enterprises like Pledgeme, Stqry, CricInfo and Enspiral and rising stars including Inspiring Stories. Wellington is well represented in the post-secondary education stakes with providers delivering world-class learning to school leavers, lifelong learners and those seeking career transition or advancement. All this is made possible in a local economy offering value add that relies on harnessing brainpower and innovation.

This is set against a world view of New Zealand as a country with first world infrastructure, relatively low levels of official corruption, easy business regulatory and legislative frameworks and a willingness to foster commerce and enterprise without grinding to a bureaucratic halt.

Naturally bounded by the harbour and the hills, Wellington is one of the most walkable cities in New Zealand, and many features and attractions are contained in a compact geographic space. With the highest density of commercial and community organisations in the CBD, you are likely to bump into someone you know as you walk around town. Its the living embodiment of “the village effect” coined by psychologist Susan Pinker, who shows that face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience and longevity. This and the diverse, changing city life we’re enjoying provides perfect conditions for the creative collisions that foster innovation and transformation, and a place where talent wants to live.

But, Wellington can do more to secure our position as a talent-based economy.

Growth, economic value and competitive differentiation of cities will increasingly be derived from people: their skills, experience, creativity and knowledge.To compete not just locally but on the world stage, Wellington can become more people-centred and better at applying technology and information. In doing so we will better attract, create, enable and retain our citizens’ skills, knowledge and creativity for the betterment of all.

What else can we do to create the conditions that will attract the hearts and minds of those creators, inventors, entrepreneurs, academics and visionaries?

1. Visionary leadership

“Absolutely Positively Wellington” has been the slogan for this city since the nineties. It embodies an attitude of energy and endeavour, of people getting out and doing it for themselves and the city, and is just as relevant today.

Where to start? How about at the top – establishing a public, private and philanthropic partnership to determine what Wellington stands for, establishing our unique brand proposition that:

  • Identifies Wellington’s points of difference, reasons to be here that only the capital can boast, and are compelling enough to attract skills, knowledge and creativity.
  • Creates a strategy that positions Wellington as the place to be.
  • Prioritises investment in core systems and infrastructure that aligns with the strategy: transport, business services, education across all stages; public safety and health, energy, environmental sustainability, urban planning and design.
  • Promotes a culture of diversity and inclusion that encourages and enables participation by all be it business, enterprise, education or recreation; and assists by removing roadblocks and barriers to entry.
  • Determines what success looks like, so that we know as a city and within our communities whether we are achieving gains, and allows us to adjust as conditions change.

2. The power of data

There’s a wealth of data everywhere: it’s collected every moment of every day about every aspect of our lives. For the first time in any generation, technology and tools are readily available to everyday users – at low or no cost (open source), and requiring relatively little specialist data mining skills to gain insights from data science. Once the preserve of government agencies and big corporates, there is opportunity to consolidate our approach to data – including collection, analytics and modelling to:

  • Keep pace with movements in the labour supply through talent mapping, identifying and predicting skills and labour shortages and surpluses by examining demand and supply factors.
  • Identify business and enterprise trends then match these to the skills and abilities available to maximise the opportunity for people in our communities to realise their potential and make a contribution.
  • Identify and evaluate large and small-scale investment opportunities which will inform decisionmaking to further benefit the wellbeing of the city, and use data to measure our opportunities , illuminate the threats, to play to our strengths and address our weaknesses.

3. Resilient Talent Pipeline

Wellington’s future relies on attracting and maintaining the innovative minds and entrepreneurial spirit that we are already seeing in the capital. Investment in a Resilient Talent Pipeline, a strategy specifically focussing on skills, creativity and knowledge-driven growth would:

  • Attract internationally mobile talent
  • Build our local talent base
  • Create pathways for that talent to be retained for employment in local enterprises or start their own businesses
  • Develop a people-centred city to keep that talent and reduce the “brain drain”.

Underpinning the pipeline, we need strategies that recognise the importance of being responsive to changes in demand for talent. These include education services and training that keep pace with current and future skills, knowledge and capability needs; appropriate investment in educational offerings and infrastructure; all within a broader message that a Wellington career is more than a job, it’s a place for life.

4. Enterprise Ecosystem

Looking at how and where talent might be unleashed, there are moving parts that need to be navigated and to work together, making it easier to start up and keep going. A robust Enterprise Ecosystem to support commercial, community and social enterprise would provide:

  • Ready access to funding
  • Affordable collaborative workspaces, such as the Biz Dojo with its new tech hub, and other boutique offerings available in the city and suburbs
  • Supportive business infrastructure including technology, people and services tailored to the needs of the enterprise
  • Connections to networks, mentors and coaches.
  • More accessible expertise and space for start-ups
  • Stronger connect between established industry and start-ups
  • A responsive service that coordinates the necessary approvals with minimal downtime, cutting through red tape

A prime example is the fledgling Zero Waste Alliance, an ecosocial venture with a zero waste goal. This public private philanthropic partnership will initially focus on transforming Wellington’s leaky food chain. Through connecting Wellington’s sustainable food heroes – composters, growers, harvesters, distributors, charities, retailers or hospitaliers, the alliance aims to achieve a “closed loop” ecosystem that turns compostable waste into fresh, local produce. Taking a systemic approach, the potential for positive collective and social impact for our communities is huge. However, on top of the innovative and commercial thinking and collaborative spirit already present, the Alliance needs more participation, support, and funding, if the zero waste goal is to become a reality. Get in touch about Zero Waste Alliance.

5. Celebrating diversity and richness

Wellington’s population is cultured, educated, politically, ethnically and religiously diverse. We are, on the whole, tolerant of difference and many communities of interest exist to foster diversity. Capital life abounds with festivals and sporting tournaments, activities and attractions, cultural, outdoor and eco-experiences. We owe it to ourselves and the future of our city to shout out to the rest of the world about the well established (think WOW, Wellington on a Plate, New Zealand Festival, Homegrown Music Festival and Wellington Sevens) and the fresh (like Cuba Dupa, Beervana, and Lux Light Festival) ideas that continue to make it a lively and thinking place to be. Lets work out where the talent we to want attract is, and take our message out to them that we’d love to have them here.

Finally, we need to continue to evolve the capital as the rich and diverse city it already is. The people we want to attract and retain have choices, and lifestyle will play a big part in where they choose to go. Let our city politicians and planners be mindful that a strong sense of purpose and community will be a beacon to the people we want attract. Lets find our own niche, our unique point of difference, and promote that to the world to be the most talent friendly city in the world.

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