How to close the IT skills gap? A national NZ survey seeks answers

With immigration shut off due to the pandemic, fears over a looming tech talent deficit are spurring a renewed focus on growing local New Zealand expertise.

When IT managers are looking for tech talent, they have previously gone offshore, with NZ Tech estimating that around half of all new roles have been filled via immigration. But now that New Zealand’s borders are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation is concerned the skills shortage could escalate.

“With closed borders, it is obvious that what was once a skills shortage could quickly become a catastrophe if not managed well,” says NZ Tech CEO Graeme Muller. “We need to establish a new baseline of the digital skills in the market and identify the areas of emerging critical shortage.”

Identifying the needs via a national survey

A survey of large corporate IT teams and of IT departments in government agencies is currently under way to determine the extent of the skills gaps. It is being deployed by NZ Tech in collaboration with tech interest groups NZ Rise and IT Professionals, as well as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The results will help inform the Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan, as well as education and immigration policy.

In addition to polling on specific roles technical skills, such as proficiently in software languages including JavaScript, Ruby, and Python and platforms including Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, it also asks respondents to rank skills such as creativity, communication, and problem solving.

There is also section around the awareness and use of student internship programmes, such as Summer of Tech and there is a question designed to gauge support for “some form of digital tech apprenticeship”.

Growing IT talent locally via the education system

Muller says that New Zealand can’t depend on immigration as the “silver bullet to the tech skills shortage” and should instead work with the education system to grow talent locally. “Many tech firms and organisations in New Zealand are struggling to find enough people with digital skills, so we hope they will now be more open to new ideas like tech apprenticeships. We also hope that more people will start considering tech as a career for themselves or their kids given the sector continues to grow and create well-paying roles with the median salary well over $80,000 a year,” he says.

The survey also has a focus on diversity, with IT managers being asked to identify the number of women, Māori, and Pacific peoples in their team. According to the 2018 census the proportion of New Zealand Information media and telecommunication industry roles per ethnicity were 72% European, 8% Māori, 19% Asian, and 5% Pacific peoples.

NZ Tech and other IT interest groups are ambitious for the sector, believing it has the potential to become the No. 1 export sector in New Zealand. Muller says that last year the tech sector employed 114,000 people and the top 200 largest tech exporters had more than $8.7 billion in overseas sales.

“Experienced workers in declining sectors might consider upskilling through the ICT grad schools, or there are other shorter options like the Dev Academy. Students at school would be wise to try things like Code Club and 123Tech to gain experience and connect with future employers,” Muller says.

“Tech is going gangbusters and is on track to be New Zealand’s largest export industry well before 2030 as long as the country can increase the flow of skills and capital to support this growth,” Muller says.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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