Even with borders fully open, the tech talent shortage in Aotearoa New Zealand will like worsen. And organisations will likely lose more skilled engineers than we gain, two technology industry specialists from recruitment firm Randstad New Zealand told CRN.
The only way to begin addressing the issue is to look at it at a systemic level, said Randstad NZ client solutions general manager Ian Scott.
“There's been a technology talent shortage in New Zealand for a very long time, and not only a shortage but also a lack of diversity, a lack of clarity for people from particular backgrounds,” he said. “They don't see role models in the technology industry, they don't see how to get in there, or they don't feel they belong.”
“This is a systemic, massive issue, which is not going away, it's only getting worse. You throw in a pandemic on top of that, and then close to the border to the talent that we've been inviting into to prop up the industry – massive holes.”
While many may be eagerly awaiting the re-opening of the borders to allow the flow of senior talent back into the country, the reality is that we may lose more of those people than we gain, explained Scott.
The 600 IT-specific visas that were recently issued, following pressure from NZ Tech and other industry bodies, have been described many times as ‘a drop in the ocean’.
"My sense is that we're going to see a net loss, not a net gain, right? So the 600 will be swallowed up quite quickly if it hasn't already, and then, as the borders open and people look at opportunities, that's where we're going to suffer the same problems,” Scott said.
Randstad NZ technology solutions principal consultant and delivery lead Dan Thompson agreed and added that NZ is also pressured by the global competition for talent.
“When you look at the criteria for those 600 visas, one of the key areas of talent that they're trying to bring in is ICT security, so security specialists, well there's a global shortage of 2.7 million people in that market,” he said. “The options are everywhere so we're not just competing to bring people to New Zealand, but we're also competing against the entire world to do so.”
In order to begin to address the issue, we need to look inward and focus on what can be done in Aotearoa to help bring more people, especially those who are underrepresented in technology, into the fold.
One big step toward this, Scott and Thompson said, is to look at how we train and educate people and try to culturally shift away from traditional ways of thinking about education.
Scott pointed to the Southern and Western Institutes of Technology as examples of education providers that are working on helping often underserved populations get into careers in tech, as well as alternative education providers such as Tech Futures Lab, which takes a more business-focused approach to IT education.
Thompson also mentioned Enspiral Dev Academy, which collaborates with industry to build students’ skills practically.
Universities do have their place, especially when it comes to critical thinking, deep research and looking at the overlap of tech and social sciences, they said. However, when it comes to day to day IT workers, the cultural privilege we assign universities should be tempered.
“It's more about having the alternatives and having people to address the early problems with a talent shortage, and giving people the capacity to have a career path into the industry that isn't reliant on (a traditional approach),” explained Thompson.
He referred to efforts in the UK and Ireland where the Government has introduced government-backed apprenticeships specifically for the IT sector.
Scott added, “There’s definitely a role for Government to invest to make sure that they're supporting SME businesses to look at their people to upskill and uptrain them, not just in a vendor-specific way.”
On the training front, the NZ Government has already begun a push toward vocational training and has added two new diplomas, one for web development and design and another for cybersecurity, that can be attained through the Government’s free trades training programme.
For larger companies, Scott said that more should be conducting their own internal retraining.
“There's a real opportunity for companies to start to identify early which parts of the organisation will be impacted most keenly through digitisation, automation, whatever it may be and, therefore, whose roles will be affected, how they can start to retrain those people or retrench those people,” he said.
“We need to take a longer-term view than we currently are, what you see is lots of, ‘okay, we've done a restructure, we make 100 people redundant’. Well, I don't think that's good enough. I think we can't get to that point, and then just go, ‘oh, well, these 100 people or 1000 people, you got to go fend for yourself.' I think we've got to actually invest in their skill set, disassociated from what immediate outcome they're looking for as a company.”
In order to truly address the issue, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we understand training, education, employment and organisational structuring.
There are plenty of capable people in the country whose skills could be directed at the areas where they are needed, although this will not immediately solve the issue of the shortage of the senior-level talent that is needed.
However, if the investment is not made today, no matter how open our borders are, Aotearoa New Zealand will struggle to achieve the digital future to which we aspire.