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Skilled Newcomers programme in Wellington

Since 2008, the Wellington Chamber of Commerce has run a Skilled Newcomers Programme to match the skills of newcomers to Wellington with the needs of local businesses.

“Wellington is a very high-skill city, it needs knowledge workers,” explains James Sauaga, the Programme Coordinator.

Often newcomers have the skills employers need, but they don’t understand how to look for a job in New Zealand or what it is that employers are looking for.

“It can be very different from the way they approach things in their home countries,” says James.

The Skilled Newcomers Programme works in collaboration with many local organisations, among them MCLaSS (Multicultural Learning and Support Services) and the Job Mentoring Service run by English Language Partners.


MCLaSS deliver regular workshops on behalf of the programme, teaching newcomers how to put together New Zealand-appropriate CVs and cover letters, and the best ways to approach job interviews.

The Job Mentoring Service matches job seekers with trained volunteer job mentors, who provide one-to-one support and advice to job seekers.

“We are very lucky to have such a great local network supporting skilled migrants,” says James.

One common mistake newcomers make is being too formal.

“In many other countries, it is usual to be very formal when you meet with someone like an employer. In New Zealand we are more relaxed. You need to be able to shake someone’s hand, greet them by their first name and have the confidence to have a conversation.”

In many other countries, it is usual to be very formal when you meet with someone like an employer. In New Zealand we are more relaxed.

James Sauaga

He emphasises the need for job seekers to be flexible in their approach and to find the right employer.

“This is a creative city; Wellington is very diverse. You have to make an effort to understand how the company you want to work for operates. What are they looking for? What is their culture like? Take the IT industry. At one company the dress code will be jeans and t-shirts; at another, it might be suit and tie.”

A variety of agencies refer newcomers to the Skilled Newcomers Programme, where as a first step they must fill in a web-based application form.

The programme is open to skilled migrants who have been in New Zealand for less than two years and are legally entitled to work.

Depending on their needs, the migrants enrolled with the programme may be referred to MCLaSS, to the Job Mentoring Service or to other organisations supporting migrant job seekers in the region.

The programme aims to connect its newcomer clients with employers through the Chamber of Commerce’s network.

“Our emphasis is on supplying our employers with quality candidates,” says James.

International students are a recent focus. Victoria University of Wellington is among the top 2 per cent of the world’s universities, and of its 21,000 students more than 3,000 are international.

“We see so many international students coming here, getting great qualifications, and then leaving,” says James. “The question is, how do we connect them with the opportunities that there are here in Wellington?”

As well as their skills, the diversity newcomers bring to businesses should also be seen as a strength, says James.

“A quarter of Wellingtonians were born overseas. If you are in business, that’s a quarter of your customer base. If you want to understand your customers and their needs, it makes sense to employ a workforce that represents that diversity.”

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