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Digital Skills Shortage Igniting a Catalyst for Positive Change

The current and ongoing digital skills shortage I'm experiencing as a GM of a small (but very aspirational) business is our biggest single challenge we are facing right here and right now. And I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that!

Historically we have engaged new developers who are experienced campaigners. They are talented peeps who can hit the ground running and add value to the business right from the get go - something as a time and materials business has been critical to our success. We are lean, mean and capable.

But what does one do when one wants to grow, but find (as outlined in my previous piece Recruitment Challenges In the Time of Covid-19) that good people are hard to find? For us, we had to look at changing tack.

A catalyst for this tack change (aside from struggling to find aforesaid experienced campaigners) was a presentation by Graeme Muller, the CEO of NZTech. TBH - initially I could not believe some of the data. Year on year for the past 4-5 years, the demand for IT courses in schools have decreased @ 2.5% each year, whilst the demand for trade related courses/apprenticeships have increased by the same amount over the same period of time.

It got me thinking!

How could this be so, when the job and earning prospects in digital were so attractive? Was it simply that the ITO's did a way better job of promoting themselves such as this campaign for BCITO Apprenticeships - which was both controversial but delivered great cut through?

I personally think this is a part of it - but definitely not all.

Which brings me back to Graeme's presentation on Digital Transformation which focused on presenting results from the The Digital Skills Forum survey where 4 key insights were uncovered on our digital employment marketplace. There is:

  • A lack of coordinated effort
  • A heavy reliance on skilled immigrants
  • Under investment in developing the existing Kiwi workforce
  • And there are graduates struggling to gain an internship or an entry level position

A-haaaa - a lightbulb moment for me.

Now it became clearer as to why the ITO's were nailing it as a preferred career path. In short, they offered a clear career path whilst our tech industry currently doesn't. No wonder we are in the proverbial shitser now!

And then comes the self reflection in the mirror moment when I recognise and acknowledge that small businesses like the one I proudly work for, have unwittingly and unconsciously helped perpetuate this by excluding from consideration (for very valid business reasons) investing in interns and or graduates. How can we afford to break the chain?

But right now, the real question is, can we afford not to?

And that has led me to where I am now.

I am now openly and actively exploring how Somar Digital can break the digital employment chain - or our small link in it. This includes engaging with Callaghan Innovation to see how their Student Grants can support businesses such as ourselves to offset some (and all if just paying the minimum wage) of the cost in hiring an intern AND importantly understand how CI and companies such as Somar Digital can support dev students to get into the private sector, particularly in a R&D role. I am proactively reaching out to training organisations such as the Dev Academy to see how I tap into their top talent as and when people become available. I am getting a greater understanding of what fantastic initiatives such as Summer of Tech does and how they can assist. I am working with the rest of the NZ Rise board to see how we can play a part as an industry body to support positive change in this area.

The most important thing I have done is opened my heart and mind to a different way of doing things. It does not mean it will end in immediate success, but as the old saying goes "1. "Failure isn't fatal, but failure to change might be". And given the massive skills shortage we are facing now and in the short to medium term, imagine the pay-off for our whole industry if we all took a leap of faith, changed the employment cycle and invested in our future with the future.

I'll let you know how I get on, but for now, I am hopeful and happy that by giving something a go and trying something new, it will indeed ignite a catalyst for positive change.

About the writer:
Fiona Reid is General Manager of Somar Digital, a Wellington based digital agency that provides a full suite of web services and design expertise, putting people at the heart of every digital experience. She also serves on the boards of both Somar Digital and NZ Rise, having previously worked in senior leadership roles across digital businesses in both Aotearoa and Australia.


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