'ICT has no mana': Biggs

Our industry faces a tremendous shortfall of trained staff

The New Zealand ICT industry is at the point of crisis over the number of new recruits coming into the industry, according to a report commissioned by the Game Developers Association.

By 2010, the number of ICT professionals needs to increase threefold to take up expected demand. However, the number of students enrolled in ICT tertiary qualifications is declining rapidly. The number of graduates expected in 2008 is around half the number that graduated in 2004.

The author of the report, University of Otago computer science lecturer Simon McCallum, says regardless of any action taken today, the industry will feel the pain for at least the next three years.

“No matter what we do, the next three years are going to be difficult [in terms of staff hiring],” he says.

McCallum says that kind of pressure is causing some game developers to reconsider bidding on some contracts, and he’s sure that kind of impact will be felt throughout the wider ICT employment market as well.

“There are penalty clauses on contracts that could be triggered if you can’t get work done in time. Previously you’d just hire some short-term contractors and potentially pay them a bit more but what happens if you can’t even get them regardless of the pay rates?”

HiGrowth executive director Garth Biggs is very concerned by the report’s findings and says it validates something that’s been discussed in the industry for some time.

“Kids are simply turned off by it. They don’t see a future in ICT and think it’s all about sitting in cubicles working on spreadsheets.” Biggs says the industry “has no mana” and isn’t considered worth pursuing.

“Parents and teachers both seem uninterested and actively oppose children’s interests in it.”

This is a view echoed by the associate head of industry and development at AUT, Tony Clear, who is concerned about the trend for another equally ominous reason.

“I don’t think we [in academia] will have the capability to cope with any increase in the number of students.”

Clear says as student rolls shrink, universities and polytechnics are offering redundancy to lecturers and reducing the number of staff engaged in teaching ICT.

“The ones who leave are, of course, the ones in greatest demand elsewhere, who can get a job in industry that typically pays very well.”

All three men believe better targeting of students at secondary school, and getting the message across that ICT offers more than stereotypical geeks in cubicles, could help in the long run, but say the short term prognosis is grim. McCallum himself has resigned from Otago and is going to work for a game developer in Scandinavia. He does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, however.

“If [Peter Jackson’s game development project] pans out, that could provide a glimpse of what’s possible in ICT and encourage students to take it up.”

ESTIMATED STAFF REQUIREMENTS:

• By 2010: 66,000

• Currently employed: 22,000

• Number of graduates over next three years: 3,500

UK skills gap:

• 150,000 extra employees needed each year

• 20,000 graduates per year from UK universities

Source: NZGDA report on computer science careers

GIZ A JOB:

• Fill-rate for ICT jobs: 53%

• Training rate: estimated: 9.4%, actual: 4%

• Retirement rate: 0.3%

• Female: 26%

• 1.8 qualified applicants per position

Source: Department of Labour

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Tags staffenrolmentsgame developers associationbiggsskills shortagehigrowth project

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