Published on the 17/07/2018 | Written by Pat Pilcher
Is it what's needed to fill a growing tech sector labour gap?
An initiative to improve technology education in New Zealand was held in Auckland over the weekend.
The event, called the ‘Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Hui’ (MIE) brought together 60+ teachers selected by Microsoft for their expertise in using technology to improve student outcomes.
Involving New Zealand’s education sector is important says Anne Taylor, Microsoft’s Education Manager. “With the new national curriculum prescribing the use of technology from age five up, across almost all subjects, we need to provide opportunities to upskill our teachers and give them confidence in the digital environment,” she says.
“The tech sector faces significant challenges as it seeks to maintain growth while grappling with a skills shortage.”
At the MIE Hui, educators got the opportunity to learn from high profile education and tech experts in workshop sessions designed to share how different tools can be used in the classroom to teach concepts such as computational thinking and creativity.
While there is no disputing that MIE is an excellent initiative for creating tech-savvy kids while also building feel-good around Redmond’s tech juggernaut, a more systematic approach might be needed to deliver GDP-enhancing results.
Tech is playing an increasingly prominent role in New Zealand’s economy. A recent report from the NZ Tech Industry Association shows the tech sector contributed approximately $16.2 billion to New Zealand’s GDP and employed over 120,350 people in 2017.
As good as the numbers sound, the tech sector faces significant challenges as it seeks to maintain growth while grappling with a skills shortage.
The extent of the skills gap in the tech sector was highlighted last year in a report by the Digital Skills Forum which showed that while the New Zealand tech sector created 14,000 new jobs, only 5,090 graduates took positions in the industry during the previous year and just 5,050 visas were granted to immigrants with suitable skills. The net result is a significant shortfall in people with the right skills.
Microsoft’s grassroots approach seems a step in the right direction.
MIE members tap into the collective wisdom of an international community of MIE Experts. In New Zealand, there is already a network of more than 60 teachers from small rural primary schools through to large urban high schools.
Setting up kids with the right skills to gain the qualifications needed to take up a career in the tech sector might sound straightforward, but like most things tech related, the devil is in the detail.
The Digital Skills Forum report found the number of Kiwis with tech-related degrees and diplomas was increasing at about seven percent annually. While it might sound encouraging, the reality is that there are not enough graduates with suitable degrees or diplomas to meet tech industry demand.
Low wages exacerbates this issue and sees many of the best qualified graduates heading overseas. A recent report by the Ministry of Education shows the volume of graduates heading overseas increases with the level of qualification gained. Only nine percent of graduates with a bachelors degree left New Zealand. This climbed to 16 percent for those with a post-graduate qualification such as a Masters degree and jumped to 24 percent of doctoral graduates heading overseas.
Further muddying the waters is the rapidly changing and unpredictable nature of work. At a ministerial presentation last year, Mckinsey’s Gary Pinkus best summed this up in saying: “We are facing a world where change [is] occurring at ten times the pace of the Industrial Revolution and 300 times the scale, or roughly 3,000 times the impact. Every aspect of our working lives is changing. Whole jobs are disappearing and almost every job is being re-shaped. The very notion of what a job is has been challenged by the so-called gig economy.”
So while helping teachers embrace tech is definitely a good thing, evidence points to a need for a longer-term more systematic approach with better funding by both public and private sector organisations. The first steps to achieving this, says the Digital Skills Forum, is addressing why both private and public sector organisations under-invest in the development of their staff.
The Digital Skills Forum’s survey data suggests the main reasons cited by organisations for not investing in staff development are a perceived lack of available time, plus challenges around prioritising training above daily business activities. This trend was consistent across all organisations surveyed.
Upskilling current staff, is, however, only one part of the approach needed. The Tech forum report says more emphasis is needed around developing a domestic pipeline of talent. The burden of achieving this, it says, lies with the education system. Both the tech sector and the Government “need to co-invest in education, to better align courses with the future demands of the sector.”
Microsoft’s teacher hui being a rather perfect case in point.