Spatial experts added to Immigration's skills shortage list

Immigration New Zealand has responded favourably to an industry request to ease a shortage of geospatial knowledge

An approach to immigration authorities to help ease a perceived shortage of NZ residents with digital geospatial knowledge has succeeded. The classification "other spatial scientist" has been added to Immigration New Zealand's Long-Term Skills Shortage List (LTSSL).

This means an immigrant who has a "bachelor degree specialising in geography or computer science and a minimum of two years' relevant post-qualification work experience in GIS applications" will find it easier to qualify for a work or residence visa.

"Migrants who gain employment in one of [the listed] occupations may be granted a work visa under the LTSSL Work to Residence or Essential Skills instructions," says Immigration NZ documentation. "Migrants applying for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category may gain bonus points towards their application if they have an offer of employment, work experience or qualifications in an area of absolute skill shortage identified on the LTSSL."

The initiative to improve the supply of geospatial specialists was organised by the NZ branch of the Spatial Industries Business Association (Siba) and Land Information NZ. They see it as remedying a skills shortage that would otherwise have got worse as interest in the use of geospatial information in business grows.

"Research commissioned through Victoria University into the capability of the spatial industry in New Zealand has confirmed a skills shortage in this area," says New Zealand Geospatial Office principal analyst Geoff O'Malley.

"This is just one step towards addressing that. In the longer term we'll work with schools to raise awareness of spatial sciences as a career option, and with universities to increase the tertiary level qualifications available in this area.

"This addition to the LTSSL reflects a collaborative effort between government, academia and industry, O'Malley says. "We all support the growth of the New Zealand spatial industry and, together, have put forward a strong and successful application."

"This removes some of the barriers to improving the supply and demand position," says Siba geospatial capability lead Scott Campbell, "but it will need to be promoted" so that aspiring immigrants know geospatial skills will be well received in New Zealand.

Not everyone agrees there is a problem; comments appended -- unfortunately anonymously -- to Computerworld's story last year accused the industry association of trying to drive salaries down in the sector.

"If there's a shortage, then surely salaries should be going up as demand exceeds supply. But is it?" said one commenter. [The] solution seems to be to increase supply by getting in more immigrants instead of offering better salaries for existing staff to stop them from heading to Australia."

Others criticised the industry for an inflexible attitude to employing promising locals. "Unless you've worked in the sector before they don't want to know you," said one "Skills are transferable. People can learn the 5,10 or 20 percent of the job that relates specifically to your industry very quickly."

"If you want a person with precisely the right tick boxes you won't find them," another commented. "But having been in IT for 30 years, [I think] anyone who has an engineering, or math background can do this GIS stuff.

"It does require a different mindset of the HR department and some knowledge [on the part of] the development manager," the latter commenter added.

Campbell says he was "surprised and dismayed" to see these comments. With increasing demand, he does not see any danger of a glut of geospatial experts on the market depressing pay rates, he says. Sectors such as retail, logistics, marketing and finance are seeing the advantage of adding a geospatial aspect to their ICT and even with the addition of new immigrants, this demand will barely be able to be satisfied.

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