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Skilled staff a critical need for booming NZ tech sector

The New Zealand tech sector is facing a serious shortage of skilled staff in the face of strong job growth that is generating thousands of new tech jobs, according to a new survey says. The report published by the Digital Skills Forum was established in 2015 to bring together the government agencies focused on digital skills and the tech industry and to help address growing digital skills shortages.

The economy is constrained by the imbalance of available digital skills and business demand, that has accelerated during the pandemic. IT, digital and the overall tech industry are struggling to attract, develop and skilled workers. Staff with the necessary tech and creative skills that will help New Zealand grow have been a severe challenge according to Graeme Muller.

New Zealand could be in serious risk of wasting its digital potential that would have a cascading negative impact on education, businesses and the national economy. In a world where digital technology underpins every part of our society and economy, we must not risk our digital future, opined Graeme.

The Digital Skills Aotearoa survey indicates a lack of coordinated effort leading to a skills-mismatch. Domestic education pathways are not generating adequate talent and the sector relies substantially on overseas talent to be sustainable. Additionally, not many New Zealanders opt for careers in the tech sector, despite such jobs paying significantly higher than other sectors.

Jobs in the IT sector have been on the rise consistently, growing 4.7% a year to 98,583 jobs across all sectors by 2019. By 2025, as many as 149 million new digital technology jobs are expected to be created worldwide.

Many countries have begun to modify their education systems to improve the teaching of foundational skills and competencies required for a digital future. To stay in step with this trend, the national education system introduced digital technology teaching across all year groups in primary and secondary school.

None the less, many issues hamper the progress. including shortages of qualified teachers, lack of student interest in digital careers and low levels of participation by girls and underrepresented minority groups.

The number of new digital technology roles created each year is not the issue as hand. The nation needs about 4000 to 5000 new digital technology professionals each year which means that the existing pipeline needs to improve by only a small percentage. For example, in 2019, 4462 new digital technology jobs were created. In the same year, 5745 students graduated from tertiary information technology courses, including 3265 students with degrees in either computer science, information systems or software engineering.

What the industry research study found though was that a majority of roles being recruited are for senior or experienced individuals, with very few entry-level positions available. This creates a skills shortage for senior experienced capabilities and an oversupply of under-skilled graduates. To solve this problem, organisations have increasingly relied on immigration to access the required digital skills at the required time. But in 2020, COVID-19 seriously disrupted this avenue.

To ensure New Zealand’s digital future, Graeme feels that the country must bolster the digital skills pipeline, promote digital technology to students, parents and the extended community and increase investment in educators’ confidence and upskilling. The government’s GovtTechTalent graduate programme has to be expanded and should fund and coordinate specialisations across the ICT graduate schools.

Graeme feels that a vibrant pipeline of skills is essential. While the pandemic has heightened the role of technology in our lives it has also, for the medium term at least, limited recruitment of overseas talent.

The challenge in 2021 is less around the depth of the pipeline but how the country can better match digital skills with the organisations that need them. These companies and government organisations must invest in their digital talent from entry-level, right through to senior-level roles.

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