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Examining the benefits of participating in IT

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 09 August 2018, 6:17 am

Ngāi Tahu Research Scholar at the University of Canterbury, Mark Van der klei, whose PhD thesis is examining the IT occupation's attractiveness to Māori, asked the question at ITx about whether it is beneficial to Māori to participate IT. It was such an interesting and challenging question, that I asked him afterwards to provide his view on why he posed it. Here is his response.

"Yes I did question whether Māori should participate in IT. I used this question to demonstrate that as a critical researcher, I believe that we should not be taking anything for granted. I would like to explore the question to not only establish if Māori should participate in IT, but if so, to what extent and in what areas. I would also like to incorporate aspects of New Zealand's history - as I did in the presentation - to see what we can learn from our past.

"I drew from a number of different sources in my presentation including Hazel Petrie's "Chiefs of Industry", and Michael King's "The Penguin History of New Zealand". In Petrie's book, she spoke of the economic prosperous period or "golden age" for Māori (1840s and 1850s). This was a period when Māori were encouraged to invest heavily in new technologies (in this instance ships and flourmills) as a means of increasing their economic prosperity. This time of prosperity ended abruptly after the international produce market crash in 1856. With diversification discouraged, unequal access to government assistance, a lack of political influence as Māori became unwilling to sell land, and discrimination in the "…allocation of income generated by Māori to benefit Pākehā…" the Māori economy went downhill rapidly (Petrie, 2006, p. 253).

"This decline continued after the First World War when equality earned on the battlefield did not travel home with the soldiers, and legislation excluding Māori from housing and farm development continued (King, 2003). Post Second World War saw urbanisation of Māori turn from a trickle into a torrent as vast swathes of land were lost through government purchase, the actions of the Native Land Court, and raupatu after the wars.

"Many Māori were also attracted from the North Island to the South Island with paid transportation and lodgings. Due to the abundance of work and the casual nature of their employment, Māori would work their way up the South Island to return home with accumulated wages. This happened repetitively over a number of years and what was initially a mobile labour force led to permanent migration of families away from their iwi. When I spoke of geographical disconnection, this happened rapidly within a generation with contributing factors including urbanisation, migration and an overwhelming push in some political circles for assimilation. 

"The reason I used this example was to highlight one possible danger of increased involvement of Māori in IT.  The IT industry is global and those within that industry have the potential to make a good living.  It was acknowledged by a number of the ITx2018 keynote speakers that anywhere from 75-85% of jobs that we do today will no longer be needed in the next 25 years. To succeed in the IT industry, participants need to be constantly learning new things and upgrading their current skills sets (which includes out-of-work time learning).  With this kind of volatile market and a job that requires continual immersion to succeed, should we be encouraging an already fragmented Māori population into jobs that encourage further geographical dispersion and one that requires complete emersion to succeed?  The possibility for current levels of geographical disconnection to be amplified through global migration should at least be a consideration when planning for the future.

"As an aside, I had the opportunity to speak with a few people that listened to my presentation, and one lady mentioned that she is an IT worker, and working in IT has allowed her to reconnect with her family because she is able to work remotely from her home. Talking to her was a real pleasure and highlighted to me what was possible if the goal of those working in IT was to either reconnect or stay connected.  Those opportunities are not always available, however, but maybe this is an area of opportunity for iwi to consider; creating a specific strategic ICT plan for those in IT so they have the opportunity to reconnect or stay connected with their respective iwi. If this can be done then maybe this example highlights reasons why and how we can go about encouraging more Māori into IT."

On the flipside - what do you think are the benefits of increasing Māori participation in IT?

"A number of industry and broader economic benefits have already been identified for Māori IT workers, for example:

  • Diversification of the IT industry to promote novel answers to existing problems.
  • As technology becomes more advanced e.g. artificial intelligence (AI), incorporating cultures that not only think differently, but where ethics and ethical concerns are embedded in their culture will help in the creations of different technological cultures (e.g. AI culture) whose aim to be of benefit to all; not just a few.
  • Advantageous for the New Zealand economy as it increases the number of skilled workers available for existing jobs (decreased unemployment), increases the average wage (tax revenue and increases in disposable spending) and decreases our reliance on immigration to maintain and grow the industry.

"For Māori IT workers, apart from financial benefits, it is currently more difficult to say.  While being part of a growing industry could be advantageous, if as a group Māori are unable to influence change, then as a group they are subject to the changes implemented by others. Therefore what is my opinion on the benefits of increased Māori participation in IT?

"If Māori look to act as a cohesive group and become more involved in the creation of IT artefacts, this could prove advantageous as there may be scope to be able to influence the direction of change. That will require strategic changes to be made; not only in how iwi manage their ICT capabilities, but also a focus on both the entry levels and the strategic and governance levels of the IT industry. This also includes a strategic plan (as opposed to ad-hocery) to enable those with ideas about revitalising te reo to be paired with Māori developers so that the embedded culture and values within the final products align with the overall design vision."

To learn more about Mark Van der klei's research check out the Techblog post or you can email mark.vanderklei@canterbury.ac.nz.


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