by Divina Paredes

Programme helps ICT professionals re-enter the workforce after an extended break

Sep 13, 2017
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The ROI is high, these women have already worked in IT, and have built a level of experience.

“Everyone talks about the ICT skills shortage. Everyone thinks importing talent is the solution. But actually there is an unmet group of women who are in New Zealand who can fill that gap,” says Kim Connolly-Stone of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The Return to IT programme is based on that, says Connolly-Stone, who is policy director, digital economy, at the MBIE.

The project, which kicks off this week, is recruiting women who have worked in the technology sector and left for two to five years, who will be provided guidance and mentoring to go back into the workforce.

This is a hugely successful group of population that almost gets forgotten, says Nuwanthie Samarakone, founder and CEO of ICE Professionals,who is helping implement the programme for MBIE.

“If women aren’t driven or connected enough, the opportunity to come back is very slim.What we are doing is giving people that opportunity.”

Six organisations are participating in the pilot: MBIE, Westpac, ANZ Bank, Intergen, Transpower and Cigna.

Kim Connolly-Stone of Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

This is how you can solve a skills gap and create better diversity in your workplace.Kim Connolly-Stone, MBIE

She says organisations participating in the pilot programme need to offer “real opportunities” in the workplace. These could be full-time or part time jobs or internships, but they have all got to be paid.

At the end of the programme, MBIE will create a toolkit, which will provide guidelines to help any organisation in New Zealand to build its own ‘Return to IT work’ scheme.

She explains the pilot programme will not be repeated as the purpose is to gather the materials that will go into the toolkit. She says the toolkit will also feature successful case studies. “We are showing it can be done.”

Connolly-Stone says one of the programmes they looked at is the Returnship programme of Goldman Sachs in the US. This is a paid, 10-week program for those who left the workforce for two or more years and are ready to return.

Samarakone has designed similar programmes in the UK and Singapore. “The ROI is high, these women have already worked in IT, and have built a level of experience.”

“We have to start thinking about acquiring talent differently, leveraging the individuals we already have in the market supported with that transition,” adds Samarakone.

“This scheme will enable them to do so you don’t have to teach them the basics. It is a fantastic opportunity for companies to give it a go if they are not doing it already,” she says.

The women will start working in October. They will attend an introductory training and be mentored throughout the programme.The toolkit that will be produced based on their experiences will be published in April 2018.

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We have to start thinking about acquiring talent differently, leveraging the individuals we already have in the market supported with that transitionNuwanthie Samarakone, ICE Professionals

All the materials will be available to any New Zealand firm that employs technology workers, says Connolly-Stone.

“This is how you can solve a skills gap and create better diversity in your workplace.”

The pilot aims to establishing what is going to work and not going to work for SMBs to large corporates, she adds.

These could be around guidance on flexible working arrangement, what you need to do with existing staff to explain what is happening with someone who is into flexible working.

Samarakone says the toolkit can also be used for other groups of technology professionals who have taken an extended break and would like to go back to the sector.

Connolly-Stone says the seeds for the programme started over a year and a half ago during a meeting with other MBIE leaders.

One of the themes they discussed was ‘how should we shape the digital economy programme?’

They then held a workshop with other leaders in the ICT sector.

The attendees were asked to list their responses to this question: ‘If there is anything to grow the digital economy, what would it be?’

Connolly-Stone says they came up with hundreds of ideas written on Post-It notes, and the return to work scheme for women in technology was one of them.

They then contacted the Ministry for Women as well as Victoria MacLennan of NZ Rise and explained the idea.

“We started working on it just to see what it involved,” she explains.

She says NZTech helped them find women ICT professionals who have left for various reasons and have not come back into the tech space.

“These are really good educated individuals who have the skills but have been out of the workforce for at least two to five years,” explains Connolly-Stone. These women were asked to participate in a focus group about the programme.

From the discussion, MBIE proceeded to create the Return to IT programme.

She says MBIE and the Department of Internal Affairs approached Wellington-based organisations to help in the pilot programme.

The companies taking part will ensure they get the most out of the opportunity but also help foster the growth of the tech sector, she says.

“The key difference is we will be supporting them in the transition, guide them with mentoring and coaching.”

“We have got a great technology sector. We can not afford to sit back,” she states. “Every country is thinking about technology. We are working to support our technology sector and the skilled people doing this.”

Transpower is one of the organisations participating in the Return to IT programme. The company also supports ShadowTech Day, providing workplace mentors to female students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects.

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