A strong sense of frustration reigns

Skills development and local R&D are not separate issues

By the time you read this the election will be over. Without even trying to anticipate what the result will be, it seems time to ponder what that might mean for ICT.

There are several stories in this issue that indicate different groups are getting their says in early on the future direction of ICT policy. What they all have in common is some sense of frustration, a sense that there is work to do and urgency about doing it.

That is not to diminish the achievements of the Labour government in the area of telecommunications and broadband. There has been clear progress and investment in digital infrastructure and communications has ramped up dramatically. We appear to be entering a new era of competitiveness.

Whoever forms the new government has to first ensure they do not inadvertently undo that good work.

But then we have to move forward. Right now, in the midst of election promises, it looks as if a lot of money is going to be thrown at the perceived problems. But amongst the heavy emphasis on infrastructure, there are a bunch of other issues that need to be considered.

Skills development is one crucial area. We are being promised changes in the education system by both parties, but ICT skills development requires special emphasis. Especially, I feel, in the training of more developers and engineers rather than more systems administrators and technicians.

While there is a place for private training to do this, at the very high end it will require that our universities are supported and bolstered. It should also involve some form of early identification and encouragement of high school students with an aptitude for hardcore computer science.

It doesn’t take New Zealand long to identify great high school rugby players — and God knows that is important — but I can’t help feeling the identification of other aptitudes is more hit and miss.

Of course, young people have to want to engage in ICT in the first place, and that has proved a challenge. Despite all the theories expounded about why this might be, I still find it mysterious in an age when information technology is accessible like never before and when its benefits are becoming so widely appreciated.

One thing is certain: we need a change of approach.

But to create opportunities for these young people, which in itself will encourage them into the field, we also need to encourage companies large and small to undertake development and R&D.

If National forms the next government and goes ahead with its plan to cancel R&D tax credits it is, effectively, making New Zealand uncompetitive.

Other countries are not nearly so short-sighted.

Exactly what National plans to do to positively encourage ICT R&D will need to be spelt out early if it emerges victorious.

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