by Sarah Putt

NZ IT sector grapples with training tomorrow’s CIOs

Feb 17, 2021
CIOEducation IndustryIT Skills

New Zealand industry groups, government, and academia are all seeking ways to increase technology education with a business context.

Rearview students with hands up teacher in background [students, education, question time]
Credit: skynesher / Getty Images

Between the IT skills that are taught at tertiary level and the skills that are needed by industry, there can be a yawning gap into which graduates fall into. This is particularly true for those students — tomorrow’s CIOs — seeking to combine tech and business careers in the ever-changing world of enterprise IT.

The Digital Skills Aotearoa Report released by NZTech this month shows that in 2019 there were 15,325 students enrolled across all levels of tertiary IT courses and 3,265 students graduated with computer science degrees.

Demand for IT skills is high. A NZTech survey of 190 employers shows that collectively they will require 5,000 newly digitally skilled employees in the next two years. But the reality is that those job vacancies are often filled by overseas workers. In 2019, there were 3,683 visas approved for IT professionals to immigrate to New Zealand.

With New Zealand’s borders shut due to COVID-19, NZTech CEO Graeme Muller says he has heard tech firms discussing the idea of joining forces and funding their own managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility to ensure that the flow of highly skilled IT talent in New Zealand continues.

“It may seem like a quick fix, but it involves complex logistics,” Muller told NZTech members this week. “Recent Bloomberg calculations suggest it is likely to take seven years before the pandemic ends and international borders return to some form of normal. Considering the analysis, doesn’t it make more sense to help grow local talent and upskill our own workforce?”

IT groups concerned about direction of vocational training

A number of tech groups, including NZTech and IT Professionals, are working to establish a workforce development council (WDC) as part of a wider government reform of the vocational education sector.

According to IT Professionals CEO Paul Matthews, the idea of a tech-based WDC would mean greater emphasis developing future skills, and more workplace learning through apprenticeships, internships, and other programmes.

Consultation has closed, with IT Professionals banding together with NZTech, NZRise, and Aotearoa Tech Union, among others, to put forward a submission in which a WDC that includes digital technologies (IT, computing, digital, and tech) would also include the creative arts, hairdressing, sports, and recreation.

“We support the grouping with creative arts as there is a strong link and bond between many aspects of digital technologies and many aspects of creative arts. However, the proposed groupings with the other areas of coverage are arbitrary and not in the interests of these industries or ours. Their future needs, structure, challenges, and focus are entirely different to that of digital technologies and creative arts,” Matthews says.

Thus, IT Professionals is not supporting the WDC proposal as it currently stands, although Matthews says it is open to discussions on how the current situation can be resolved.

Both Matthews and Muller say they are meeting with chief executives from the Ministry of Education and the Tertiary Education Commission this month to discuss digital skills training.

University of Auckland business school reaches out to CIOs

While groups representing IT practitioners grapple with government initiatives to address digital skills, individual academic institutions, such as the University of Auckland, are looking at ways to bring IT and business closer together.

In recognition of the need to bridge the gap between industry and academia, professor Illan Oshri has rebooted the University of Auckland’s Centre for Digital Excellence, which goes by the apt acronym CODE and of which he is the new director. Its mission is to become a leading research centre on digital technologies through ongoing relationships with industry, policy makers, media, and academia. “The idea is to combine the business knowledge with the technical skills that the university as a whole has developed over the years,” he says.

Courses that you might expect to be offered in the computer science department are instead taking place in the business school. Notably, a blockchain course that will be open to business and computer science students that teaches the practical application of blockchain technology.

Oshri says CODE is working with Tata Consultancy Services on developing the course, which will enable students to get hands-on experience with TCS’s blockchain technology, including its core platform in India.

Another course, “Managing with Artificial Intelligence,” is more theoretical and will provide an overview of the different areas of AI, and their application in a business setting.

Oshri says boards are taking a greater interest in what technology can deliver for their organisations, and therefore the CIOs of today, and tomorrow, have a greater opportunity to understand, and then influence, the overall business direction.