Skills shortage? What skills shortage?

Published on the 27/06/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson


NZTech_Muller_Skills_shortage

Despite own evidence to the contrary, NZTech CEO finds it hard to believe…

It’s one of the evergreen ‘challenges’ of the tech industry, but none other than the CEO of the country’s biggest tech industry organisation has provided evidence which makes a nonsense of it. That’s right, the skills shortage which everyone (but no company in particular) decries, may not exist.

Or, at least, it is possibly not as bad as everyone tends to make out.

Before we get to Graeme Muller’s epic rant in his latest NZTech missive, bear in mind the comment made by Transaction Services Group’s David Kennedy, CIO of the Year finalist and a panelist at the recent CIO Summit. He said: ‘I don’t think there is a skills shortage at all, I think there is a training shortage.”

Muller, in his NZTech Inform newsletter, said he is ‘incredibly frustrated’. “I keep hearing from tech firms that there is a real shortage of talent, that they have so many open roles and struggle to fill them. I keep hearing that someone needs to fix this. However, I am beginning to get the feeling that the issue might not be as big as everyone is making out.”

He’s got plenty of evidence to back this starkly different-to-the-orthodox view. Pointing out that NZTech has a survey in the market asking for information on tech skill needs, Muller said just 28 out of some 400 companies have bothered to respond. “To inform education and immigration policy we need input,” he wrote.

There is even more evidence to the contrary. The LookSee campaign, which drew a remarkable response from techie folks around the world keen on working in New Zealand, hasn’t actually resulted in a great deal of people coming here to meet the so-called skills vacuum. Wrote Muller: “The tech sector appears to be pretty blasé about the effort being put in.

“It was a real struggle to get tech firms to engage with the same vigour that they had when complaining they struggle to find talent.”

Indeed, because while the campaign attracted 48,703 applicants, 5,000 of whom applied from Silicon Valley itself, and although Wellington tech firms were presented with 1,900 pre-screened, video interviewed candidates and funds were made available to fly 100 of them over to New Zealand, it astounds Muller that just 93 were offered interviews. “This simply doesn’t make sense!”

It does if the skills shortage is just another one of those things that people say to fill empty space, which in the tech industry is something that happens a lot. Perhaps we can assign to the phrase ‘skills shortage’ the same value that we associate with ‘cutting edge’, ‘advanced’, ‘latest’ and other words which are nothing more than polite noise.

For, continued Muller, “We have a database of thousands of senior developers that would like to come and work in New Zealand, yet we can’t find them jobs. A recent survey of applicants found that 19,049 are still interested in job opportunities in New Zealand. A staggering 74 percent said they would fly themselves to New Zealand for an interview. We have 1,979 machine learning, AI, robotics developers, 335 data scientists, 1,185 cyber security specialists, 1,861 business analysts, 2,261 mobile app developers on standby.”

Those figures of people skilled, ready, willing and able surely do not point to any sort of dramatic shortage of anything; data scientists, in particular, are often said to be in serious demand, but most companies are likely to need one or two of them, not upwards of 300.

But so ingrained in all of us is the conventional thinking that Muller finds it hard to believe the very evidence before him; he still reckons the skills issue has to be real: “I can’t believe this issue isn’t important anymore, so I can only guess that individual firms don’t feel any sense of responsibility and they assume someone else can fix this for them.”

Or the real issue, perhaps, isn’t whether or not there are skills shortages locally. Instead, it could be that those with the shortages aren’t necessarily ready, willing or able to pay the salaries commanded on the international market by those who have the skills.

See Graeme Muller’s full comment here.

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