ICT still has a serious image problem that is holding it back. Changing that image, so ICT is seen as a “worthwhile and valuable profession” is the key, says NZ Computer Society CEO Paul Matthews.
Problems besetting the industry include a low recruitment rate, low student intake and Kiwis with ICT skills emigrating. Fixing the problem will involve formal professional certification — a solution the NZCS has long discussed.
However, the society really has the bit between its teeth now, with Matthews saying there is a proposed timescale — the end of next year — and money to back up the initiative. Between $200,000 and $400,000 is being talked about — an amount to be jointly raised by industry and government.
So far, government has only been approached informally, says Matthews. However, it seems “open” to the idea. “It would be hard to argue that there was no need for this,” he says.
Although the issues are often seen as a set of distinct problems, they’re not, says Matthews in a society report.
“They actually only form the symptoms of the underlying issue affecting stable ICT growth and innovation in New Zealand, and many other parts of the world. We believe the real issue at play is the widespread perception that the ICT sector has not matured into a true profession. Basically, we’ve got an image problem. There is a clear line between a practitioner and a professional in most other professions. However, due in part to the [industry’s] dynamic and diverse nature, there is no perceived distinction in ICT.”
Developing an appropriate Chartered ICT Professional qualification, similar to the qualifications of chartered accountants and certified engineers, would help, but it is a major undertaking, says Matthews. And it is only the start.
“There must be an acceptance of the 'chartered' status amongst the industry, government, and educational sectors; an adoption en masse, and a campaign of active promotion to ensure the certification [and, thereby, the industry] receives the same credibility in New Zealand as that adopted by our kindred organisations in many countries.”
Matthews thinks the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), developed in the UK by a number of bodies, including the British Computer Society, could provide a skeleton qualification structure.
This framework sees qualification as a matrix: it fixes the role in one dimension and the level of responsibility and accountability in another. “Each of seven levels — from new entrant to strategist level — is defined in terms of autonomy, influence, complexity and business skills.”
A formal qualification would also encourage schools and tertiary institutions to see ICT as a profession, and teach the subject accordingly, stressing the appropriate ethics and regard for the customer — not simply teach the technical aspects of how to program and use a computer, says Matthews in his report.
The NZCS plans to set up a working group, whose membership and terms of reference will be developed by early April at the latest, says Matthews.
A plan will be presented to the NZCS’ national council in November.