Do we have enough IT professionals to sustain a knowledge economy?
An impressive 33,705 people identified themselves as being employed in the information technology industry in the 2001 census, a jump of over 14,000 from 1996. Of the 33,705, 3099 said they were employed in IT management. This is about 1000 more than the 1996 census found (2076 out of 19,188 in total), though IT Association (ITANZ) head Jim O’Neill suggests the numbers might have been skewed by IT professionals becoming Y2K contractors — and thus managers — for tax purposes.
The 33,705 cited in Statistics NZ’s annual report on IT use is about right after five years of steady growth, suggests O’Neill, particularly if it includes telecomms professionals.
The number is probably sufficient for the “holding pattern” currently being exercised in business IT, he says, but if small and medium-sized firms get serious about e-commerce, it will almost certainly not be enough.
The government is nudging teaching institutions toward providing the skills it figures the country needs through initiatives such as the Tertiary Education Commission, while encouraging immigration to act as a people filter rather than just border control. ITANZ helps the Immigration Service in this process, saying that although the industry is not in the shape it was even two years ago, the country still needs — for instance — senior project managers, solution architects, consultants and systems developers with top-level experience and qualifications.
Lech Janczewski, a senior IT lecturer in IT at Auckland University, is a bit more sceptical of Stats NZ’s numbers. He suggests it is fashionable to call oneself an IT professional and is “deeply suspicious” that the census identifies the correct number of qualified, experienced individuals. Janczewski notes that the occupation has no equivalent of accountants’ CA qualification. The NZ Computer Society, of which he is one of 2000 members, is attempting to qualify the status of its IT professionals but it will be a slow process, he suggests.
As to whether we have enough IT people for the economy, he says the key question is how difficult it is to find a job — though it is tougher, it is “no big deal” compared to other occupations. The university, one of the country’s biggest IT educators, pumps out about 200 graduates from four faculties each year, and Janczewski believes about three-quarters of IT graduates are still in the country.