A geospatial industry association is lobbying the government to get skills in geospatial information systems recognised by immigration authorities and added to the long-term skill shortage list. Experienced geospatial specialists will then find it easier to enter New Zealand and to gain residency.
Representatives of the New Zealand end of the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) presented their final case to the immigration sector of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment earlier this month, and are now waiting for a reply, says Scott Campbell of Eagle Technology, the capability specialist on the SIBA executive.
The shortage problem is not specifically a New Zealand challenge, Campbell says; countries such as Australia and the US have recognised it earlier and their governments have included geospatial expertise on their occupational lists. It’s a particularly visible need in Australia given the huge mining industry, but the value of GIS as a cost-saver is now being recognised in New Zealand, well beyond the traditional GIS-rich areas of central and local government, Campbell says.
“It’s a matter of supply and demand,” he says. Supply is increasing because people are graduating, but there’s a lag on rising demand. In the UK, however, demand is also depressed, because of the general state of the economy following the global financial crisis and recession.
“We’ve seen in traditionally strong GIS areas, a lot of jobs have been cut; we’re seeing senior experienced geospatial people who’ve been made redundant from say a transport company or central government agency or council,” Campbell says. “They’ve not had to resort to driving taxis yet, but they’re unable to get positions that fully use their skills. So one of the reasons behind us trying to lower the barriers to immigration is that there’s a pool of skilled resources in the UK specifically, whom we could be recruiting.”
To provide ammunition for a demonstration of the need here, the association commissioned an online survey run by Victoria University to establish the pattern of skill shortages in GIS. Returns from 160 organisations gave hard figures to substantiate the existence of the lack of supply and the growth of demand, Campbell says.
“Organisations in the commercial sector have begun to ‘get’ GIS. They’ve suddenly seen the value of it, the potential to save money.” They approach companies such as Eagle asking for a recommendation for “a good GIS person” to lead their move into the field – sparking a potential growth in Eagle’s business. “But often, without pinching someone from one of our customers, we can’t [supply that need]; we don’t have people sitting around in that space,” Campbell says. “That’s one reason for supporting this work. Increasingly our customers are [coming from] areas where you wouldn’t have seen GIS before.”
In local and central government, where GIS has been successful for a long time, the mismatch of supply and demand is less acute. “But areas where it’s been less prominent – the finance sector, agriculture, business, commerce, retail – those are the growth areas. And it’s hard to get a GIS person, let alone a GIS person who knows those sectors.”