NZ urged to address current - and future - digital skills shortage, now: Report

We need to undertake a programme of constant digital attraction

A report released by the New Zealand Digital Skills Forum confirms the significant and growing digital skills shortage across the country.

The report is a warning bell to industry, government and the education sector, saysVictoria MacLennan, head of the forum, which commissioned the report.

The report says more than 120,000 people were employed in the tech sector last year and about 14,000 new jobs were created. However, only 5,090 tech students graduated in 2015, and 5,500 tech visas were granted in same period, demonstrating a shortfall.

At the same time, it states New Zealand is facing an 11 per cent annual increase in demand for software programmer jobs.

The report highlights another challenge - diversity. In 2016, it finds only, 36 per cent of tech students were female and only 8 per cent were M?ori.

Meanwhile, New Zealand needs programmes designed to support re-entry to work and upskilling for those whose jobs are most likely to be replaced by automation, says MacLennan.

High demand for skills + low supply of skilled workers + demand forecast to grow = DIGITAL SKILLS GAP

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“Without investment and a coordinated national effort, public and private sector partnerships, we run the risk of falling behind other nations investing in a Digital Future," says MacLennan.

“We cannot wait, we need to act on the findings of this report, today.”

“As a country, we must help younger New Zealanders discover a prosperous future working in the technology roles where the median salary is $82,000, almost twice the average median salary.

“Together, we need to remove barriers for our graduates finding their first job, make it easier for those seeking a career change, and improve the gender and cultural diversity in digital roles. None of us can do this on our own.

“As a result of this report, we now have tangible and concrete data on the size, scale and nature of the digital skills shortage in our sector and across the New Zealand economy. This report identifies both a challenge and a massive opportunity, but it will take all of us to realise it."

“The Digital Skills Forum study has highlighted that not only are insufficient numbers of tertiary students studying computer sciences or information technology, but they also struggle to transition into roles following their graduation. As a nation we could do better at showcasing a variety of pathways into digital technology roles," adds NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller.

Graeme Muller - CEO, NZTech

The New Zealand Digital Skills Forum includes NZRise, NZTech and IT Professionals NZ from the tech sector, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Ministry of Education, the Department of Internal Affairs and the Tertiary Education Commission from government.

Paul Matthews, CEO of IITP

The report defines digital skills as those needed to find, evaluate, utilise, share and create content using information technologies and the Internet.

The skills can be basic, such as the ability to use email or online banking, through to more advanced skills such as programming.

“As many services move online, basic digital literacy skills are now required by the entire population. These skills are needed to carry out essential functions such as digital communication or basic internet searches in a secure way.

“Because of this, the House of Lords in the United Kingdom recently stated that digital skills should be treated with the same importance as numeracy and literacy,” the report states.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Communications Minister Clare Curran welcome the release of the report.

“We are committed to increasing the investment in digital learning in schools and also among the wider population through an emphasis on enabling lifelong learning,” says Hipkins. “The Ministry of Education will also work with the Digital Skills forum to address the issues raised in the report.”

Curran says much of what’s in the report aligns with the new Government’s priorities and is very useful in quantifying the size of the skills shortage. “We need to know as much as we can about the size, scale and nature of the digital skills shortage in the digital technology sector, and across New Zealand,” she adds.

“This report takes a long term look at digital skills needs and highlights the gap between limited supply and increased demand for digital skills.”

“The tech sector is New Zealand’s fastest growing industry and makes a significant contribution to our economy. We want to close the digital divides by 2020, and make ICT the second largest contributor to GDP by 2025.”

Next:Building the talent pipeline - top 10 recommendations

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The report lists 10 recommendations in 3 areas to address the digital skills shortage:

Building the talent pipeline

1. Make sure every child is exposed to digital technologies

In the long term, we need to dramatically increase the supply of digitally skilled people in New Zealand. Therefore, the successful introduction of the digital technologies/ hangarau matahiko curriculum is critical. Increased investment should be made to ensure teachers and principals are actively driving the new learning into their schools as quickly as possible.

2. Help all Kiwis to understand the importance of digital skills

The skills issue is not about the tech sector, it is about the future of work. We recommend investment to increase the understanding of the importance of lifelong learning and digital technologies.

3. Increase the numbers studying advanced digital skills

The number of students who study computer science or information technology at a tertiary level needs to increase. A national campaign should be designed to encourage more students into relevant tertiary study.

4. Actively encourage a more diverse group of Kiwis into digital technology

The tech sector is actually very diverse thanks to immigration. Rather than import diversity, we must invest in the untapped potential of our own population. We recommend the development of significant policy approaches and initiatives to increase women, M?ori and Pasifika in digital roles. Consideration should be made to applying positive discrimination to incentivise and encourage individuals into computer sciences and information technology courses, in the same way as it is applied for other nationally critical skills, such as medicine.

5. Undertake a programme of constant digital attraction

New Zealand should invest in building its Digital Nation brand and use ongoing digital campaigns to target and attract the best possible talent from abroad. After all, digital people use digital tools to find their next job. We recommend investment into building a database of digital talent looking to come to New Zealand and a programme of constant engagement.

Supporting the transition to work

6. Develop and promote pathways into digital tech roles

As there are multiple pathways into digital roles, these need to be clearly promoted. We recommend investment into updating pathway information and ongoing promotion of the various pathways into digital technology roles including ways to upskill or reskill into in demand areas.

7. Develop a platform to support internships

To help students transition faster into productive employees, most tertiary courses now include work experience and internships. However, this part of the market is fragmented with businesses being approached by multiple education providers. In addition, it is often unclear what to expect from an intern, which can lead to lower rates of participation. It is recommended that a neutral platform is developed to provide a central location for engaging with students looking for internships or work experience. The platform should be used to create consistency in the experience and help employers understand ways to get the best return from different experience levels.

Upskilling and reskilling

8. Develop programmes to support re-entry to work

With less than 30 per cent of the tech workforce being female, significant opportunity exists to improve gender balance and help address the skills shortage. We recommend developing programmes to help women return to the workforce and into digital roles. We recommend extending the pilot Return to IT programme to include support from education providers to help women without digital skills to develop them, so they can return to the workforce in digital roles.

9. Create upskilling programmes for those likely to be hit by automation

The growth in demand for digital skills presents a unique opportunity in that the number and type of roles emerging is broad. Against this backdrop, the Government and tech sector should work together now, to create and pilot programmes specifically targeted at groups within society that may be hit hardest by potential automation of jobs. The focus should be on developing skills that the market will need most, not just on filling education quotas.

10. Educate the market on importance of training and development

The value of investing in training and development of existing staff needs to be promoted explicitly. The Government and industry should consider co-investing in a study on the economic benefits obtained by organisations that develop their digital staff. Successful high profile tech firms who have a policy of ongoing development should be highlighted as exemplars. (Source: New Zealand Digital Skills Forum)

The big picture

The forum surveyed the tech sector in August and September this year to create an evidence-based picture of the skills needed across technology and digital roles. The survey was developed with input from the Department of Internal Affairs which had conducted a similar survey across Government agencies at the end of 2016.

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This was complemented with data from the Government IT and Digital Skills survey and the analysis of LinkedIn data of 90,000 New Zealand IT workers and surrounding recruitment trends. The 142 organisations that responded to the Digital Skills Survey employed 17,324 people in total, of which 27 per cent are female. Across these firms, 68 per cent of their employees work in advance digital skill roles, with the main skill group being software developers.

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When asked to forecast their future requirements, this sample anticipates an additional 3,248 digitally skilled employees within the next two years. The demand for software developers was very high, alongside data analysts, architects and digital leadership.

The Government survey received feedback from 37 agencies who employ over 80,000 people, of which 23,946 are involved in IT or digital roles. Like the tech sector, 30 per cent of the digital staff were female. The Government respondents also forecast increasing demand for certain digital skills. In the Government, the demand is for digital leadership, data analysts, cybersecurity specialists and architects.

Analysis of the overall demand for different skills versus the growth in demand, found that software developers, web programming and software engineering are the largest demand groups and continue to have strong demand growth. However, some skills such as network administration and storage networks are decreasing in demand. The highest demand growth is for machine learning skills.

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Across all three surveys, there is evidence of strong demand for digital skills and significant growth in demand for some of these skills. This is important, as not all skills are growing in demand. There appears to be large numbers of workers currently employed in 'keep the lights on' IT work, such as infrastructure support and network management. While these jobs are important, their demand is reducing.

Related reading:

Government CIO Colin MacDonald on how NZ became a digital ‘standout’ nation

Kiwi tech leaders call for programmes to address impact of AI

Leadership through the generations: The importance of mentoring

Digital curriculum in NZ schools: ‘How much longer do our children have to wait?’

Why there are so few women in technology – can we go from discussion to action?

The quotable quota of women in technology: What is preventing women from joining the tech industry?

Jeanne Holm: A data 'revolutionary' on building a better world

Diversifying tech: Change the conversation, challenge the norms, celebrate successes

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