Relocating to Dunedin - 4 Years On
This has been shared with permission from Cory Pearson
It is 4 years since I relocated to Dunedin. During the process I shared my experiences about relocating to a smaller city and how it impacted my lifestyle and career. This post is an update of my experiences of the city.
Moving to Dunedin opened up more doors than I expected. I have worked with some incredibly talented people, helped change how businesses operate and gained some fantastic operational exposure. When I told people I was leaving Auckland, I was told I wouldn't find work in my field and I would be unhappy. I was also told career progression would be slow and I would be back in Auckland within a couple of years chasing my next role. Yes, there are limited senior roles in Dunedin and the competition to get those roles is hard for someone younger, but I have had more opportunities to take sideways roles to develop my skills further, and I have a broader range of skills since moving to Dunedin.
From a lifestyle perspective, I feel like I found greater discipline in my workday, found greater purpose in what I do, and have been able to have financial security to allow my wife to study full time. Finishing the workday at 5pm is the norm, not the exception. I admit that house prices have taken off and is getting more expensive, but it is still below many other centers in the country. Commutes are also not long at all, regardless of driving or taking the bus.
But, I found the change hard on me. I spoke this week about my mental health on LinkedIn, and much of this really came out while I was down here. Maybe it was the shorter winter days, or the ongoing feeling of not being in a tribe, but I hit a few bumps in the road mentally. But the support I got from my employers and managers was fantastic. The way they supported me was genuine and not an HR "tick the box for accreditation" exercise. I feel that I have come out better from that rut.
Thoughts on Dunedin over 4 Years
I was worried that I would not meet people passionate about doing things better in Dunedin. I was worried it would be full of closed minds and people talking about the 'good old days'.
I can tell you that Dunedin is dynamic, and well and truly coming into the 21st century. There are still residual old fashioned attitudes and behaviors around, but there are just as many people working hard to make this city a great place to live, work and play in to match. I am lucky to have met with and worked alongside some passionate and talented people.
I have seen some great positivity and transformations in Dunedin in recent years. There's been an emerging food scene that keeps lifting the bar on good food, some under-rated tourism opportunities here that I think could grow the economy with some strategic investment, and businesses down here working together and doing great things.
Take Education Perfect and Timely, two companies I had never heard of before moving south that employ dozens of people in Dunedin and around the world. They're also services you or your family have probably used in 2020 for education in lockdown or when making an appointment. Then there's the great co-working spaces and the innovative culture they are fostering. Up and coming companies like Kaffelogic, GFactor and Kitt and cultivating in Dunedin's awesome startup spaces.
Dunedin, like all cities, has its challenges. While the local economy has weathered 2020 reasonably well, the rate of housing price increases, vocal opposition to investment and projects, and particular skill shortages are creating challenges for the city to progress faster.
It is also clear that the city needs to continue embracing change in order to maintain long term economic growth and continue attracting investment and talent to the city. This is something that requires buy-in from the majority of the city, not the minority.
I have found that the employment market is limited here, and it can take time and being more open-minded around expectations. This is because turnover is generally lower and there is a lower population base. One challenge I regularly see with recent arrivals is what I call the "spousal tail". Someone will get a job in Dunedin and move down, but their spouse finds it takes months to find roles.
Another common challenge I hear from people is pay. They expect that pay might be lower, but some are unpleasantly surprised to find what their new role is worth. I think that employers are realising things need to change, but turning up the salary/wages tap is easier said than done, particularly when existing staff may be on comparatively lower earnings too. I see this gap will start to close in time through more staff turnover, increased cost of housing and potentially increased job competition.
When I moved down, house prices were a big attraction to making the move. However Dunedin has seen prices rise at an unseen pace in recent years. This "catch-up" in pricing has seen Dunedin overtake Christchurch in median House prices. Housing stock remains low and that is one factor driving up prices. It reminds me of the challenges Auckland faced in 2013-16.
To put things into perspective around the challenges in housing, Dunedin's original population forecast for 2030 a few years ago was 130,000. The population passed that mark in 2018, and there's further forecast population growth for the hospital rebuild.
This is putting strain on new arrivals with finding suitable housing to buy or rent, especially when the rental calendar year revolves around the calendar year in Dunedin, vs whenever the tenancy ends.
What am I doing about it?
After climbing out of my trough following the move to Dunedin, I saw an opportunity to help others find their local support. I learned quickly that things progress here through your networks and reputation, so newbies are at a disadvantage from the start. I wanted to change that, and last year I started the New to Dunedin Network. This initiative is designed to facilitate making connections between locals and recent arrivals.
COVID took away much of the initial momentum for the initiative, and it was difficult finding the initiatives identity, successful events and delivery formats. But I remain committed to keeping the initiative going and advocating for people coming to live in Dunedin.
Tips for new arrivals, or those planning on making the move
Research. Come and visit the city, understand what is out there for you with roles, properties, schools, etc.
Reach out to some of the recruiters locally and let them know you're coming down. This can save time with job hunting, especially if your ideal role comes up infrequently.
Think about your transferable skills - this can help with landing that first local job that's not the 100% fit to what you used to do.
Start building your local network early. Make connections, follow up and build some local credibility. This will help open up opportunities sooner.
Be prepared for some downtimes. There' often a high with the new city, but you'll also hit lows. Reach out for support if you need it, and remember that this is normal.
Feeling settled takes time, and this will happen with any new city move. For me it's taken probably 3 years to really feel settled here.
What can Dunedin locals do to help?
When you are fortunate, build a bigger table to share with others, not a fence to keep them out - Unknown
Simply, help others out. If you have a new arrival in your team, make them feel welcome. If there's opportunities to get new people involved with something at work, in a club/society or socially, invite them along. Not everyone needs the invite, but it certainly beats the isolation and less than welcoming reputation Dunedin ends up with from new arrivals having a tough experience.
And most importantly, embrace the diversity and change. It is positive for the city.