So what’s the solution to the problem? Garth Biggs, executive director of the HiGrowth Project, says the biggest issue is one of perception.
“People seem to think ICT means staring at a screen 24 hours a day, [and] not getting out much. It’s not like that at all. New Zealand is a small country and the market for ICT staff is small, so you have engineers talking to customers all the time. People skills, communication skills, are a must.”
Don’t get Biggs started on the Xtra TV ads either.
“I’ve been in the industry for a fair few years now and I’ve never met anyone like any of those guys.” Biggs says the industry needs to realise just how dire the situation is and that changes need to be made, and made soon.
“We’re starting an advertising campaign shortly that we hope will lift awareness of the benefits of ICT as a career option.” In the meantime, Biggs says companies need to realise they have to look elsewhere for staff — even if that means employing foreign workers.
“All too often we hear about people with Asian names being rejected out of hand for jobs, even second generation New Zealanders. Companies just aren’t very good at dealing with the issue of immigrant workers.”
Biggs says one argument made is that while large companies with dozens of staff, can absorb a problem employee without too much trouble, smaller companies can be left in the lurch.
“It’s OK if you’ve got 120 staff and one of them turns out to be no good, but if you’ve only got six, so the argument goes, it’s much more damaging to your company.”
Biggs says HiGrowth will be working to identify which companies do hire overseas’ workers and make it work well, and will try to teach other companies how to integrate staff into their businesses.
“There’s always the problem of salary conversion as well. If you tell an American that they can earn $100,000 a year here, they automatically convert it to US currency and say ‘I can’t live on US$60,000’. Well, in New Zealand you can, and very nicely too.” Biggs, himself an import to New Zealand, says he could have earned far more working in Sydney or London but chose New Zealand for the lifestyle.
“We can’t compete on salary in many respects, but we can compete very well on the life you can lead here.”
Biggs hopes the Ministry of Education draft framework for ICT in schools will help bring about a sea-change within the education sector.