The good times are to end in just a few years for IT staff as more skilled workers come on to the market, says the leader of a union eager to represent IT workers.
However, other industry stalwarts predict ongoing labour shortages and high pay packets well into the future.
EPMU national secretary Andrew Little says the New Zealand labour market is extremely fluid and current high wage rates will only attract new entrants.
“Looking at the reality of the future marketplace, it won’t carry on in the same way. I’d say in the next five years the market is going to be flooded with IT-literate and computer-literate people,” he says.
Little accepts his is a lone voice, but says that is simply how a market economy works. “What is in short supply will later be in abundant supply and this will affect what people are prepared to pay,” he says.
When that happens, he says, IT staff will have to look at how to respond. “What are they going to do to shore up their working conditions? We have good times now, but we are going to need certainty in future. I don’t know the answers, but people will have to start talking to each other,” he says.
The EPMU is recruiting from the IT sector and Little likens the situation for IT staff to 20th century electricians and autoworkers. When their skills became commonplace, they had to organise collectively to protect their positions, he says.
New Zealand presently has 30,000 IT workers, about 2% of the workforce, but the government has no figures on the numbers in training.
A committee of university vice-chancellors last year discovered around 2000 students a year complete IT-related courses and numbers will increase, subject to student demand.
However, ITANZ executive director Jim O’Neill says New Zealand is behind in the e-commerce revolution and has “hardly even scratched the surface” in adopting new technology. “Oversupply? I cannot see that happening. When people see their rivals have IT, they will join in,” he says.
Auckland recruitment consultant Barry O'Brien says the IT industry is breaking into new areas. “Growth is exponential. There is no way in the foreseeable future that the demand for IT people will be exceeded by the supply of graduates. It is a completely incorrect position,” he says.
New Zealand has 8000 IT vacancies. Australia has 30,000 IT vacancies and the shortage is predicted to expand to 180,000 by 2004. The US Department of Commerce says its country needs 1.3 million IT workers by 2006, double current levels.