Christchurch-based GPC Electronics designs and manufactures complex, high-tech items for companies all over the world, with names like Toshiba, Nortel, NEC and Siemens on its books. Its 75 staff range from engineers, technicians, logistics experts, assembly staff and product managers to the support people needed for a company with offices in Sydney and China.
And as Operations Manager John Watt puts it, without the specialist skills migrant staff bring to GPC, the company wouldn't enjoy its current success. "Across the company, 83 per cent of our workers are migrants, all the way up to the management team," says John, who himself migrated from Scotland five years ago. "We couldn't exist without them."
New Zealand does not seem to produce enough graduates in GPC's field to keep up with demand, says John. "New Zealand does produce electronics engineering graduates but not where we need them. And a lot of them go off overseas to pay off their student loans. We've been lucky to find people from overseas to fill the gaps."
GPC advertises and recruits in New Zealand and internationally; some of its staff have been referred by the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce skilled migrants programme. In the front foyer of the company's Wigram office is a large map of the world with pins denoting staff members' home countries in Poland, Russia, China, the United States, Malaysia, the Pacific Islands, Colombia, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Malaysia, among others.
"At the end of the day, the company stands on the people working here. Our job as managers is to ensure people have the environment they need to work well, and that will mean different things to different people.
"If we have a happy workforce, then life is easier for us. We try and do everything we can to reinforce that we're one company focusing on the same thing."
However, managers are aware of different cultural approaches to workplace communication. "Scots like me are hard to offend," explains John, originally from Glasgow. "But when talking to someone who is, say, Chinese, how you say something and the phrases you use will change how they pick it up. You have to think: how do I get this message across so it's understood?"
Sound business reasoning lies behind GPC's emphasis on this sort of cross-cultural awareness. It has customers in countries as culturally varied as the Netherlands, the UK, the Middle East, China and Malaysia, and needs to know how to communicate clearly with them.
"When you're working globally, that's a really important skill to have," says John. "Thinking about how we communicate internally helps us externally with customers. If you can get everybody used to being like that, it becomes a natural way of working."
That said, such skills don't always come naturally. "It does take work and focus," says John. "When we bring new people in, it's important to understand that person and their needs. Every new person adds something new to the mix."
Potential recruits are screened for cultural fit and GPC is particularly looking for people who have worked in diverse teams. "We ask them what helps them work well, and we look at the culture of the companies they've been working for. We do it in a subtle way."
New staff members are also asked about their ambitions - do they have further qualifications in mind? Where could they see themselves moving in the company? GPC offers national qualifications training in electronic manufacturing, allowing many of its staff to formalise years of experience.
Managers keep an eye on staff dynamics, and occasionally offer what you might call pastoral support, pointing new migrants towards sources of information and making suggestions. At one time, a particular group of migrant staff who lived in a tight-knit community were encouraged to develop outside activities and ties.
GPC makes sure its social occasions and team-bonding exercises are inclusive, and says it has no problem with people requesting extra leave for special cultural events. Several Chinese staff wanted to make a trip home for the Chinese New Year in February, and the company supported them.
"From a personal point of view," says John, "I've never regretted any of the people I've brought on - I've found only positives."