Action needed to address growing digital skills shortage

Rapid increase in demand for tech skills

The Digital Skills Forum — an industry/government working group formed to address digital skills shortages — has released an analysis of the digital skills landscape in New Zealand says it shows a significant and growing digital skills shortage, primarily resulting from a rapid increase in demand for tech skills.

The report estimates that more than 120,000 people were employed in the tech sector in 2016 and about 14,000 new jobs were created. “However, only 5,090 tech students graduated in 2015, and 5,500 tech visas were granted in same period, demonstrating a shortfall,” it says.

At the same time, according to the report, New Zealand faces an 11 percent annual increase in demand for software programmer jobs, and a lack of diversity:  in 2016, 36 percent of tech students were female and only eight per cent were Māori.

Digital Skills Forum chair Victoria MacLennan said the report should sound a warning bell for industry, government and the education sector.

“The growing skills shortage in New Zealand’s IT industry and broader economy is very real. Industry, government, and the education sector need to continue working closely together to accelerate plans and activities to address it, otherwise the future prosperity of New Zealand will suffer greatly,” she said.

“We need to continue working together to help nurture and develop local talent, and at the same time make sure that we fill any gaps from the best talent we can find worldwide. If we do this well then we have the opportunity to make New Zealand a technology powerhouse on the world stage.

“The findings in this report show the supply of people with advanced digital skills doesn’t meet demand and this gap is growing. Through the Digital Skills Forum, a collaborative group of leading tech industry and government agencies, we’re working together to address digital skills shortages. But more must be done.”

She called for concerted action to: remove barriers for graduates finding their first job; make it easier for those seeking a career change; improve the gender and cultural diversity in digital roles.

“As a result of this report, we now have tangible and concrete data on the size, scale and nature of the digital skills shortage in our sector and across the New Zealand economy,” she said. “This report identifies both a challenge and a massive opportunity, but it will take all of us to realise it.”

The Skills Forum comprises representatives from NZRise, NZTech and IT professionals NZ from the tech sector, and from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment; the Ministry of Education; the Department of Internal Affairs; and the Tertiary Education Commission.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Communications Minister Clare Curran issued a joint statement welcoming release of the report and saying the government recognised that digital literacy and the development of digital skills were crucially important.

Hipkins said the government was committed to increasing the investment in digital learning in schools and the wider population through an emphasis on enabling lifelong learning.

"We’ll do that through a range of measures including supporting the new digital technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum which starts in schools next year and through the fees-free initiative which will benefit tens of thousands of students next year and even more when it expands by 2024 to provide three years fees free,” he said.

"The Ministry of Education will also work with the Digital Skills forum to address the issues raised in the report."

Curran much of the report aligned with the new Government’s priorities and would be very useful to help quantify the size of the skills shortage and to provide information for her recently announced Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Advisory Group.

Recommendations

The tech sector members of the Digital Skills Forum — NZTech, NZRise and IT Professionals NZ — reviewed this study and its conclusion and provided 10 recommendations, included in the report.

- Make sure every child is exposed to digital technologies:

- Help all Kiwis to understand the importance of digital skills:

- Increase the numbers studying advanced digital skills:

- Actively encourage a more diverse group of Kiwis into digital technology

Read more: The ascent of analytics: A rundown

- Undertake a programme of constant digital attraction:

- Develop and promote pathways into digital tech roles:

- Develop a platform to support internships:

- Develop programmes to support re-entry to work:

- Create upskilling programmes for those likely to be hit by automation:

- Educate the market on importance of training and development:

 

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