Digital skills shortage: Whatcha gonna do?

Published on the 17/08/2018 | Written by Heather Wright

NZ Digital skills shortage

Yup, there’s a skills shortage. But what are tech companies doing to help?…

It’s an often heard refrain from the New Zealand, and global, market: There’s a serious shortage of available ICT skills and it’s hampering business.

In December, the NZ Digital Skills Forum voiced their concerns about the digital skills gap in their Digital Skills for a Digital Nation report, showed that in 2016,14,000 new jobs were created in the sector, but only 5,090 students graduated, with most of the shortfall made up through granting 5,500 technology visas.

“Technology firms are looking for people with more experience so they need to take some responsibility.”

Graeme Muller, CEO of NZTech which is one of the core members of the Digital Skills Forum, says the Forum’s research identified that one of the biggest challenges for solving the shortage of digital skills is transitioning tech graduates to work.

“Technology firms are looking for people with more experience so they need to take some responsibility in helping prepare the students while they are going through their formal training,” Muller says. “At the same time, changes need to be made to help encourage education providers to better integrate with industry needs.”

While members of the Forum are looking at ways to improve internship and work experience interactions between the industry and education providers, he cites Microsoft’s Imagine Cup as ‘a nice example’ of a programme which is working well as it provides a large number of tech firms with a safe, organised way to engage with technology students – and for the students to get exposed to the work environment and develop experience.

Carol Glidden, Microsoft New Zealand tertiary lead, says the Imagine Cup, which is now in its sixteenth year and sees tens of thousands of aspiring student developers from across the globe teaming up to create imaginative real-world applications, is designed to encourage and empower the next generation of Kiwis to think big. Three Kiwi teams competed at this year’s global Imagine Cup, vying for more than US$725,000 and an opportunity for a mentoring session with Microsoft boss Satya Nadella.

A combined University of Canterbury and University of Auckland team took out the A/NZ cup with a device which monitors tank water levels and automatically reorders water.

Glidden says the Cup gives competitors real life experience of the world of technology: 

“To bring an idea to life, to have it tested against their peers and by judges who work in the field every day. It is also a great benefit for students who need to learn not simply how to come up with an idea and execute it but how do they present it, how to tell the story of the idea so it captures the imagination of people. It is one thing to invent something world-changing, but if you can’t explain it and pitch it then it is never going to change the world. The Imagine Cup is really a great opportunity to learn so many different skills all at once.”

SAP is another company investing heavily in initiatives to drive technology entrepreneurship and innovation, with its Young ICT Explorers competition, aimed at school children. The programme launched in New Zealand in 2016, and Pete Andrew, SAP A/NZ COO, says this year SAP will be running a roadshow in locally, providing an opportunity for smaller locations to participate in the competition. 

“By shining the spotlight on our country’s digital futures through initiatives such as the SAP Young ICT Explorers competition, we are encouraging more students to consider digital technologies, not just as selected subjects at schools but as a career path,” he says. 

“Encouraging students on the possibilities of technology at a young age is a critical step to increasing the numbers of students considering STEM subjects at University and beyond.

“Diversity in the technology industry also needs to continue to be a focus, in order to drive innovation across the sector. With initiatives like SAP’s Young ICT Explorers competition, we are already seeing the positive impact these programmes are having – with the competition having close to 50 per cent participation ratio of boys and girls for the past three years [in Australia]. If we can encourage this diversity at a young age, we have a better chance of seeing that continue as students progress through their studies and into the workforce.” 

Meanwhile Spark, whose ICT business includes Revera and CCL and the business previously known as Spark Digital which technically no longer exists following the company’s move to agile (which means goodbye to business units), is also targeting both youngsters and graduates.

Its Code Club helps teach kids how to programme games, animations and websites, while the First Foundation helps financially disadvantaged but academically talented kids pursue their dreams through tertiary education.

Spark supports scholarships through the First Foundation and students have had the opportunity to undertake paid work experience and be mentored by Spark staff, a spokesperson says. 

“We also run our own graduate programme, which last year saw us recruit 15 graduates across the business (the majority of which worked in network and IT), as well as a number of paid interns to gain work experience.”

The Government’s GovTechTalent Graduate Programme is also looking to lure graduates into digital – with the programme open to non-digital/ICT applicants as well as technology graduates.

The programme, which is currently open for applications for its second intake, sees 20 graduates spending 24-months rotating through three of the participating government agencies, which include NZ Transport Agency, Inland Revenue, Stats NZ, Internal Affairs, MBIE and the Ministry for Primary Industries.


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