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New Digital Skills Report: It’s a call to action

Paul Matthews, ITP Chief Executive. 29 January 2021, 4:11 pm
New Digital Skills Report: It’s a call to action

This week the Digital Skills Aotearoa report (pdf) was released at an event in Wellington, taking a deep dive into the data around professional digital and technology skills. 

The report is an update on a similar report from 2017, while also being the first real "deep dive" looking at digital skills across the pipeline. While looking at the school and tertiary situation since 2017, the report also looks at what's happening within the industry itself including immigration, re-skilling, investment etc.

You need to read this. But strap in, because the numbers aren't good.

The results are clear: we are significantly under-investing in our people.

Some of the numbers are pretty shocking. While immigration is hugely important, we've used it to become complacent; choosing to just "buy in" skills from overseas rather than developing our own domestic talent.

In fact, as an industry we bring more people into our industry through immigration than we do through our own domestic education system. Think about that for a second.

Now don't get me wrong - immigration is a good thing. As well as filling shorter-term skill gaps, it brings people to New Zealand with a wealth of international experience and diverse perspectives and that makes our industry stronger. But the level we've come to rely on immigration is simply unsustainable.

In 2019, visas were approved for 3,863 IT professionals to immigrate to New Zealand. With 4,462 new jobs created that year in tech, you do the maths.

The same year, only 1,850 domestic students moved into degree-level courses in tech-related fields. Even if we add in sub-degree qualifications, it's still only 3,455 people that began study in tech-related fields in total in 2019.

So we're clearly not bringing enough through education, but is that the problem?

The numbers suggest this is only the tip of the iceberg - in fact the skills challenges in our industry are far larger than that.

As an industry, we're also doing an incredibly disappointing job when it comes to providing internship and graduate opportunities for the next generation of digital tech workers. In fact, in 2019 less than 15% of students seeking internships were able to be accommodated.

Students were crying out for internships and to get going in our industry, and our industry said no. Sorry, too busy. Sorry, too expensive (hint: it's not). Sorry, too hard (hint: it's not).

Our "shortage" areas are in mid-career onwards, with the biggest gaps in senior professionals. Our employee churn rate is high - with most changing companies to progress their careers (meaning they're not seeing internal development opportunities) and our level of investment in professional development is woefully low compared with other professions.

So as an industry, instead of developing our people we just buy more in. And more and more, and on it goes until we reach the point we're at now, which is entirely unsustainable.

We have a very clear and huge mismatch between the skills our industry needs, and the skills available, yet as a whole, we're simply not doing enough about it.

It's time this changed.

The report makes clear that at best, we've managed to keep things the same since 2017. Organisations like ITP, Code Club Aotearoa, Shadow Tech and more do everything they can with the resources they have.

But that's clearly not enough.

It's time for us all to come together and really sort this out once and for all.

This is an incredibly good report, but it makes me mad.

At an education level, it makes me mad every time I see our 123Tech and TechHub teams scrambling to do so much with the pretty low resources they have. It's great that the Ministry of Education supports this initiative, alongside other forward-looking industry players like Datacom and NZSE, but it's not enough - the team could be doing so much more with a bit more support.

It makes me mad whenever I hear from Summer of Tech and tertiary providers, desperately trying to find companies that will take their students for internships. They come to us because they get so many cold shoulders - often the same companies who go on to complain about not being able to find tech workers.

It makes me mad whenever team leaders, HR folks, CIOs and others shrug off calls for more professional development for their people. When they refuse to let their staff take part in things for petty reasons (like it's supported by their competitors) and won't even cover the comparatively tiny cost of professional body memberships to help their people get ahead.

Let's get moving.

The data from this report is flowing into the Skills Workstream of the Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan, who are charged with quantifying, prioritising and finding solutions to enable our industry to transform. More on that in due course.

But we can no longer wait. In the meantime, here are 6 things you can do right now. And we have to start now. Today.

In fact, if everyone reading this did one or two things from this list, it would make such a massive difference in a pretty short period of time:

  1. Mentor someone! If you're an ITP member and mid-level professional or above, sign up to be a mentor. It's quick, free and easy and will only take an hour a month to make a real difference.
  2. If you're not an ITP member, join for goodness sake. We're a non-profit community who exists to develop our profession; the bigger our community, the more we can do. Here's 33% off if you join now (use this link).
  3. Volunteer to mentor a school team in 123Tech, go talk in schools with TechHub, support your local Code Club, help out a teacher via ShadowTech Teachers or help out in one of the plethora of other projects set up to help in schools.
  4. Take a student intern! Sign up for more info from Summer of Tech, and drop an email to your local Polytechnic, University or private provider to say you're keen to look at it. It's a small investment to make a big difference.
  5. Talk to your boss about getting behind 123Tech, TechHub, CodeClub, ShadowTech, Summer of Tech or other initiatives. They all work on the smell of an oily rag and making a contribution really makes a difference. And if you're the boss, let's talk!
  6. Develop your people! ITP provides lots of resources like mentoring and courses, and will soon be releasing a tool to help tech professionals identify and manage their skills, but it takes more than that - it takes employers who value their people and invest in their development.

Some are walking the talk and do many of these things already; and to them I say kia ora and thanks. Please keep doing what you're doing and try to get your colleagues involved too.

But the data is really clear that many of us aren't.

We can fix the skills mismatch problem in our industry, but we need to do it together. Government and the tertiary sector have big roles to play, but so do we - the industry and the profession.

Let's pull up sleeves and get stuck in.

You can download the full report here, and full credit to Graeme Muller from NZTech who drove its development.


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