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NZ tech sector "seriously restricted" by skills mismatch

By Shannon Williams, Mon 1 Feb 2021

Despite strong job growth and thousands of new tech jobs being create each year, New Zealand's tech sector is struggling to get enough skilled staff, according to a new survey.
NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says.the New Zealand economy is being "seriously restricted" by a digital skills mismatch during difficult COVID times.

"Digital technology businesses are having problems attracting, developing and retaining people with tech and creative skills needed to help New Zealand grow faster, especially out of the COVID pandemic," he says.

The Digital Skills Aotearoa survey says there has been a lack of coordinated effort leading to a skills mismatch with local education pathways not producing sufficiently experienced talent and industry relying heavily on immigration to support growth.

The Digital Skills Forum, run by national tech organisations, including NZTech, was established with government in 2015, to bring together government and the tech industry, to help address growing digital skills shortages.

Muller says in the past five years, IT occupations have been steadily increasing, growing 4.7% a year to 98,583 jobs across all sectors by 2019. Meanwhile, the education system has introduced digital technology teaching across all year groups in primary and secondary school.

"Demand for people with advanced digital skills worldwide is greater than the supply of qualified employees and the gap continues to grow," says Muller.

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.

"There are challenges including shortages of qualified teachers, low levels of student interest in digital career pathways and low levels of participation by girls and underrepresented minority groups," Muller says.

"New Zealand is facing a specific digital skills challenge. This research clearly shows an issue of a skills mismatch rather than a skills shortage."

He says the number of new digital technology roles created each year is not an insurmountable challenge. 

"New Zealand requires about 4000 to 5000 new digital technology professionals each year, only a small percentage improvement across the pipeline."

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.

The industry research conducted as part of this study found a majority of roles being recruited are for senior or experienced individuals, with very few entry level positions available.

"This indicates a skills shortage for senior experienced capabilities and an oversupply of under skilled graduates," Muller says.

"To solve this problem, organisations have increasingly relied on immigration to access the required digital skills at the required time."

Muller says the survey showed increasing reliance on immigration and low levels of investment in upskilling staff has created high levels of employee turnover as individuals actively seek new opportunities.

"In recent years, immigration has become the preferred pathway for organisations recruiting for digital technology roles. Covid has put a halt to that," he says.

"To ensure New Zealand's digital future, we must build the digital skills pipeline, promote digital technology to students, parents and whanau and increase investment in educators confidence and upskilling.

"The governments GovtTechTalent graduate programme has to be expanded and we should fund and coordinate specialisations across the ICT Graduate School."

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