RtR Series: NZ tech sector’s role in building a more digital nation

Published on the 28/07/2020 | Written by Heather Wright

Digital NZ_Graeme Muller

Why telling tales and developing skills are vital building blocks…

There’s a fine balancing act underway across New Zealand, as we look to ramp up the economy again, while remaining safe and healthy and ensuring resilience should another wave of Covid-19 touch New Zealand shores.

Reams of articles have been devoted to the impact of Covid, and analysis of New Zealand’s problems with productivity and skills shortages.

In this new ‘Road to Recovery’ series, iStart talks to industry leaders about the challenges faced but also, more importantly, what we need to be doing now and how technology can – and must – be a central theme within the government-sponsored Industry Transformation Plans currently in development.

“There are great opportunities right now, not just for the digital technologies sector itself, but for helping other businesses become more digital.”

Graeme Muller, NZ Tech CEO, is a believer: Covid-19 has presented a big opportunity, he says. “We can take this moment where everyone has had a digital pivot and lean in, building a stronger, more digital New Zealand.”

There are all sorts of great opportunities right now, says Muller.

“Not just for the digital technologies sector itself, but for helping other businesses become more digital so they can trade internationally without barriers, or to help the education sector accelerate the uptake of digital education so that people have a job ready when they come out, and to help small businesses work out how to use the tools to be more productive.”

He’s got two big, overarching calls to action for New Zealanders: We have to learn to tell our story better, both within New Zealand and globally, and we all have to play a part in resolving the long running skills issue.

Telling the story
Tech companies, with the support of government, should be more engaged in telling a story of New Zealand as an advanced digital and technological playground, using ingenuity and technology as a differentiator.

“We need to become better story tellers. We need to raise awareness for ourselves, for the rest of New Zealand and then for growing a global market about […] how we do good things and have great companies and great people,” Muller says

He says while it’s an area where work has already been done, it’s all been “very ad hoc”.

“So the one big call to action is let’s all just decide that yes NZ is pure and beautiful, an agricultural playground, and we make good movies, but let’s all decide that we are going to do a little bit more about telling our stories to our neighbours, to the media, to the world about how great we are at technology. Because unless everyone is telling that story no one is going to wake up one morning and wonder if NZ is great at creating digital humans.”

Relying on individual companies to tell the stories isn’t enough – there is a need for a collective story.

“That’s a huge opportunity for solving some of the other problems like the skills flow, and the focus of support from government, and opening new markets overseas. Getting that messaging out there stronger and harder will have lots of big benefits. That’s the big ask: Everyone get involved in it, everyone lean into it, everyone support the mission of ‘we are great at this stuff’.

As part of the Industry Transformation Plans, NZTech has been empowered to help the groups pull tech, innovation and ingenuity themes out in their marketing and story elements, Muller says.

“So even when we’re telling a story about our movies, we’re not just showing this beautiful landscape we’ve got to film the hobbits in, but we’re telling them about AR, VR and post-production and putting a sense of ingenuity into why people would want to buy our products.”


Solving the skills dilemma
“Everyone has a role to play in the skills pipeline,” Muller says. “Tech firms can’t sit around and say they can’t get enough people to work, if they are not prepared to change the way they do things.

“They can’t sit back and hope the education system is going to deliver them graduates perfect for them on the day they want them. There is evidence all over the world where an economic area leans into education and integrates with companies better, then the flow is better and the output is better.”

That’s often driven by one large company setting up a campus in conjunction with a university, but Muller says it can, and should, be done locally on a New Zealand scale.

“As an industry group we will work with the government trying to encourage more kids into tech and will try and encourage more flow through the system – we’ll try to build the pipeline, but the tech companies have got to come to the party and they have to get involved in working out how we create education that actually connects into their companies so people can get the work experience they say is missing and we can do this en masse rather than a few companies at a time.”

One of the things coming out of the current MBIE-lead ITP programme – the government’s sector-focused economic development strategy which sees government and sector collaboration to identify each sector’s challenges and opportunities and attempt to apply policies and investments – is a plan to do more industry skills planning.

A Skills Survey was conducted through the Digital Skills Forum – comprising NZ Tech, NZ Rise, IT Professionals and MBIE, the Ministry of Education, TEC and the Department of Internal Affairs – in 2017, analysing LinkedIn profiles and running several surveys.

Muller says in order to nudge the system in the right direction, the survey will be refreshed and become an ongoing part of the ITPs industry planning process.

The 2017 survey found the skills shortage was greatest for those around three to five years’ experience – an area where the immigration pathway has proven the most popular solution.

Covid, and the lack of international movements, spells trouble for that. And Muller, along with many others in the sector, are keen to see New Zealand resolve the issues with local talent.

Part of the issue lies with the fragmented ecosystem of IT qualifications and internships – even the term ‘intern’ can have a range of meanings.

“You have all these universities, PTEs, ICT graduate schools pushing into the market saying ‘can you take a few interns’ but it’s not a systematic approach.

“It’s hard for companies – risky for them at times – and not enough companies take up interns, so the companies are not helping develop the skills they need, they’re just going to the global market to source them,” Muller says.

“There is an opportunity to analyse and identify that market a bit better.

But Muller admits that’s one area where he isn’t sure what the answer actually is – just that it’s currently ‘not quite working’.

New Zealand's Road to a digital Reovery

The RtR series is a collaboration to provide an independent voice to the tech sector’s role in rebuilding a stronger, more digital post-Covid economy.

Other articles in the RtR series:

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Manufacturing a Kiwi transformation

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Finding the vision for post-Covid NZ

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Govt misses mark on digital recovery
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Bringing New Zealand to you

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Agritech, fintech and life sciences startups leading way for A/NZ

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