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Brislen on Tech: An HR-led recovery

Paul Brislen, Editor. 28 May 2021, 4:12 pm

This week's Digital Boost launch at the AUT Mind Lab facility in Auckland was a bit like a fever dream. Everyone there was someone I knew but everyone looked older, and like they'd swelled a bit.

I met former TUANZ colleagues, former Vodafone colleagues, former Chorus folk, former Spark folk, current 2Degrees people, bankers, friends, clients, reporters. The list was as long as time was short. I started a conversation with about six different people only to be interrupted by cries of "Well hello there!" and so never finished a conversation.

It was quite entertaining.

But then we were all ushered into another room for the presentation bit. Digital Boost - time to get those pesky small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) to embrace the digital world.

Everything is digital these days, from marketing (websites) to sales (e-commerce) to procurement (procurement) and beyond. Digital Boost will help drive uptake from the smallest one-person company up to the largest of the medium sized fellows and ensure they can do all the things they need to from EFTPOS to paying their taxes and more.

eCommerce

Xero and MYOB are both on board - not surprising since it's largely aimed at businesses and the simplest, easiest thing a business can do as a baby step towards digital capability is to get their accountancy done in the cloud.

At Datacom (disclaimer: they're a client) the pledge is to train more people for the tech sector. This is a fairly important move since Datacom would like to hire many of them in order to keep up productivity.

There is a problem with training staff, of course. Several, actually. It takes a fair time to train people, which doesn't help you next year but might in the years after, and they're not forced to come and work for you. They can chose to work elsewhere, as the fruit picking sector has discovered.

You can entice them, sure, and you can offer them a raft of things like better pay, better working conditions, a functioning health system and democracy.

That should do it because as Gabe says, New Zealand has done really well during COVID and we're the envy of the world.

But there lies the problem. By the end of this year we should be well advanced with vaccinations around the world and borders will start to open up. The hope is thousands of potential tech staff will flood the New Zealand market, but what if the opposite is true? What if, after a year of being stuck at home with itchy feet lots of bright young things decide "now is the time for my OE" and off they go.

I couldn't fault them for it. I'm not a bright young thing and I've got some terribly itchy feet and a yearning to visit the old country to check on the distant cousins and the old dears before they pop their clogs. How many of our new recruits will take off into the wild blue yonder at first chance? Quite a few I suspect.

And then there are the experienced folk who might be enticed by higher pay. We could train up hundreds of cyber-security folk and Australia would take every one of them because they pay about 20% more.

It's not just cyber-security, it's also the gaming industry (as we've talked about before) and nurses and builders and plenty of other professions.

All of that is going to have an impact on our growth projections for the next few years because unlike after previous recessions, the single biggest impediment to growth in the next few years isn't capital, it's human resources and that's already pretty tight. We have extremely high levels of employment, extremely low levels of migration (possibly even negative in the next few years) and we simply can't build stuff as fast as we'd like.

It's not just tech of course. We can't build houses fast enough, we can't wipe out decades of underinvestment in infrastructure overnight and we can't force people to stay here if they yearn for adventure.

So we might be getting a digital boost but at the same time, it might just arrive when we're flat as a pancake.


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