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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 06 October 2017, 2:00 pm

Skills shortage

For the love of god don't tell my mother, but I don't have a degree.

I am three papers shy of completion, not for want of trying but for want of cash.

The government of the day (gather round, children, and listen to Wisdom Hard Earned) decided that instead of subsidising summer jobs and fees for students studying at tertiary institutes, it would cast such things aside and Let The Market Decide.

What the market decided was to call in interest-free overdrafts and low-interest student loans in favour of a new regime. Students would be able to get themselves hip-deep in debt in exchange for the now highly-valued degree with which they would then earn high-paying jobs.

Of course, those of us working part time and studying part time in order to support ourselves through university were told "Oh yeah, we didn't think about you" and so we weren't eligible for these new student loans and so had to choose between completing our education or paying our rent. My landlord chose for me, and so it was I embarked on a career of table waiting, pizza delivery and seething socialism.

Education, as the man says, is the silver bullet to pretty much any problem you care to come up with and so I'm a big fan of educating our youth and encouraging them to become productive members of society in whatever form that takes.

Here in the ICT sector though we have a bit of a problem. Not enough people join the industry to help the industry grow. Too few study tech subjects at school, fewer take that option into tertiary study and fewer still go on to work in ICT related areas.

We have a skills shortage and we have an uphill job to get those roles filled.

One hundred or so of the country's leading innovation brands have banded together to tell all New Zealand that they are so desperate for new recruits that they'll drop the "must have a tertiary qualification" requirement on some jobs.

This is a very good move because it encourages those who weren't a good fit for tertiary study to apply for jobs that will ultimately become really quite rewarding. The MBIE Occupation Outlook website lists ICT architects and software developers' prospects as "good" to "in demand" and says growth is huge so you'll be well placed.

But I can't help putting my sceptical hat on briefly and saying perhaps if these companies were really serious they would increase the wages and benefits they paid (so as to compete for the high-end graduates who are coming through) and would start up paid internships and apprenticeships to fill in the rest. Because if we've taught our youth anything in particular it's that their skills are transferable and they are able to foot it in the global market and if you want a future you can't buy a house in Auckland (or Wellington I suspect) so you might as well go to London or Berlin or LA and have a good time and potentially come away with a bonus or two that will make your head spin.

We need to address the issue of employment from all sides and we need to do it now. Actually, we need to do it ten years ago when we first started talking seriously about an impending staff shortage (see the links below) but we will have to settle for second best.

ICT is our third largest export earner and employs 100,000 people in high-paying roles. If we doubled that figure in the next decade, think what kind of future our kids would see. The alternative, as I found out all too well, is to learn how to say "would you like fries with that" and hope you can get the smell of pizza out of your car.

Techblog - Giz a job: Industry says no need for tertiary qualifications

RNZ - New Tech with Sarah Putt

MBIE Occupation Outlook  - Accountants

MBIE Occupation Outlook - ICT Architects

MBIE Occupation Outlook - Software Developers

 

Fuji Xerox tries to turn a new leaf - MBIE slams book shut

Fuji Xerox, that beleaguered provider of photocopiers (yes, I know they do other things as well) has announced a new country manager and a new head office-appointed chair of the local business to try to put the unpleasantness of the past few years behind it.

Unfortunately for the company, one of its biggest customers, namely the New Zealand government in the form of the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has terminated Fuji Xerox's contract for Office Supplies, effective immediately, and suspended the company from the Print Technology and Associated Services (PTAS) contract, which serviced 93 government agencies.

That's got to be a big blow to the company as it struggles to rebuild its order book and also its tattered reputation in the New Zealand market.

Fuji Xerox will have to honour its current commitments under the PTAS contract but is barred from signing up any more government agencies for now.

The man charged with fixing all of this, however, has a long track record with Westpac NZ (the government's bank) and within government itself. Peter Thomas was CIO for the New Zealand Defence Force and Deputy CEO of the corporate services division of MBIE during its merger. If anyone can turn around Fuji Xerox's relationship with government it will surely be someone with his credentials.

Techblog - New broom at Fuji Xerox

Computerworld - New MD and new chair for Fuji Xerox NZ

Computerworld - MBIE bars Fuji Xerox NZ from all-of-government contracts

NBR - Serious Fraud Office takes another look at Fuji Xerox

NBR - Fuji Xerox sues former execs

 

In case of emergency, hit the snooze button

They say 4am is the time when the KGB would bang on the door and demand you accompany them to the cell for a little light questioning because you're so asleep at that time you can't really function properly or resist. When you look at it like that, getting a TXT alert at 1.30am isn't so bad. No, really.

Of course, when it's an alert from Civil Defence telling you This Is Only A Test, the recipient might get a little tetchy and, since you have a smart device to hand, you might fire off a few unhappy grumbles to various social media sites.

And so it was that Wednesday morning dawned bright and cheeky for a number of news sites, including ITP's own Techblog (we even made it to The Register) as we made fun of Civil Defence sending out random alerts at that time of the day.

Initial discussion around an EU-based team stuffing up time zones seem to have faded away, but regardless of why the test was sent out to real life customers, more questions remain. Why is a team outside New Zealand doing this in the first place? Do we not have app developers locally? Why is it that government tends to use international providers over and above local providers and can we do something about that please?

And secondly, we have the "cry wolf" scenario. A significant number of grumpy recipients claim they have burrowed into the inner workings of their devices and switched off such notifications thus rendering the whole "let's get everyone up and moving because there's a civil disaster unfolding" somewhat ineffective.

Some disclosures here. I used to work for Vodafone and would regularly receive alerts about the network and have to respond to them at all hours of the day and night and so these days I sleep at the other end of the house from my phone; and secondly, I do some work for Blerter, a company which once created an app for Civil Defence (called Alerter) which did pretty much what the new cell-based service is trying to replicate.

There are two halves to the process: deciding to send out the alert and actually sending out the alert. The Red Cross has an app which Civil Defence has been using but which I had to uninstall as it was very nervous. Look out! it would shout, it's Raining in Rotorua! Yes. I'm sure it is, but do you need to be so alerty about it? Making the call to alert everyone to something is pretty big and should only be used in actual emergency situations.

(And allow me a moment to abuse all those newspapers and media outlets which have decided "BREAKING NEWS" actually refers to "We've just updated our website and have new stories to read". I have uninstalled apps for such abuses and will do so again, I'm sure. Stop it at once, and I really am referring primarily to you, New Zealand Herald).

And then there's the sending itself.

TXT messages will get through to most people but are a blunt instrument. It's very hard to tell whether a customer is in Auckland or Rotorua or Wellington and so a "get out of town, there's a volcano" alert might cause more harm than good without geographic certainty. TXTs also take some time to send - firing out hundreds of thousands of them at once is likely to cause congestion on the network.

Meanwhile, apps can access GPS coordinates so that solves the geography issue but will only alert those with the app and then only those notifications enabled, which again isn't ideal.

The government has chosen a third path - cell broadcast - which should offer the best of both worlds. No need to install an app - the notification will be pushed directly to your phone, but only to those phones that are attached to cellsites in the danger zone, thus ensuring a more targeted group of recipients.

But cell broadcast has been gathering dust around the world for years. As far back as 2009 Civil Defence described the technology as "outdated" and some devices need to be manually activated to receive cell broadcasts in the first place.

Ultimately we will need multiple pathways to alert as broad a range of people as possible - TXT, app, cell broadcast, police cars with sirens, radio and TV broadcasts, the lot. For now though, we'd all just like a good night's sleep.

Stuff - Early morning Civil Defence mobile alerts anger sleep-interrupted Kiwis

NZ Herald - Good morning! It's your 1.32am Civil Defence alert test

Techblog - This is a test of the emergency management system

Computerworld - Lack of phone support spares many from MCED's midnight messages

Computerworld - 'Outdated' cell broadcasting for emergency messages

 

Uncivil Defence.jpg


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