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NZTech Addressing the Skills Gap


Apparently the tech sector has a major issue. Not enough skilled people available and it is only going to get worse. Everyone is talking about it so it must be true, right?

When I visit members of NZTech the skills gap conversation invariably comes up as an issue regardless of the scale of the company. NZTech ran a small survey of members last year and estimated that we will need about 10,000 new employees over the next 3 years. Wow! That’s a great sound bite and it has given us some good air time.

The question often asked is “what do we need?” That is, what specific roles are needed? Someone once said to me, if we bring 10 people to one of your members today would they employ them all? The odds of those 10 people being the right people at the right time are quite low because no one has described what is needed, only that it is needed.

Recently I have also been getting the question “do you really have a skills gap, and how do you know?” The 10,000 is a great sound bite however it also provokes a sense that it is just hype.

The good news is that I can confirm that it isn’t just hype. While our rudimentary survey may lack some substance it did stimulate some activity. I was in a meeting last week with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) when an MBIE Deputy CEO posed that very question about whether this is a real issue or not. I was pleased to hear that a team in MBIE has undertaken some work to confirm the problem.

There are four metrics governments can use to check the balance between labour supply and demand in sectors that are difficult to track:

  1. Higher than average wages
  2. High levels of wage growth
  3. High levels of articulated industry demand (via surveys)
  4. High levels of online vacancies.

When these factors are all high it proves a mismatch of supply to demand. In New Zealand the technology sector rates maximum across all four factors. So not only is there a problem, it is a big problem.

Recognising that this problem was real, even before MBIE confirmed it, I proactively reached out to IITP and NZRise to start working together with a united front on behalf of the sector. Last week we met and compared notes, experiences and projects underway. The following day we collaboratively spent a full afternoon with MBIE discussing the challenges. We all agree that this is a multifaceted challenge that will be best addressed with a cordinated holistic and long term perspective. The session was very productive and has resulted in some immediate activities with Immigration to help address current issues.

For example:

SkillFinder – Immigration NZ run a free database service of over 200,000 people that have expressed an interest in working in New Zealand. Employers can search the database by occupation, level of academic qualification, residence and years of experience. SkillFinder will then send a job alert email to the people in the database who match the search. Alternatively an employer can list a job in SkillFinder and this may also alert prospective candidates. For example there are currently 1511 software developers registered.

Australian Job Fairs – Immigration NZ has been running job fairs in Australia to help NZ employers recruit high demand people in engineering, construction, healthcare, hospitality and ICT. NZTech’s feedback was that Job Fairs might not be the most effective way to recruit tech people, but with digital pre-marketing the job fair could provide an excellent place for potential recruits to come and meet employers. The Brisbane event is too close for pre-marketing so our focus is now on Melbourne in April. If you have roles you would like to pitch into the Melbourne IT market consider this – $5000 for a booth at the expo where you can brand up your company in the Tech space, digital pre-marketing of your available roles by Immigration NZ’s recruitment event partner WorkingIn, aiming at developing a selection of candidates scheduled to meet you at your booth. No recruitment fees.

Immigration NZ WorkshopsHow we can help you employ migrants – The specialist ICT team at Immigration NZ have offered to provide free workshops for NZTech members on the various resources available to help them bring skilled workers into the country. From fast tracking visa’s to finding the talent in the first place. We will organise these in collaboration with Immigration and inform you of the dates shortly.

Overall, the main takeaway of the meetings last week was a unanimous acceptance that this is an issue that needs to be addressed at multiple levels. However, to do this effectively we need to understand the what. What skills are actually needed, now and in the future. With this information policy can be developed to better guide education, immigration etc. To facilitate this, NZTech will coordinate a quick survey to find some more detail on skills required in the short term. (A further meeting has been scheduled to look into ways of doing this in a more strategic way for the long term).

It was very pleasing to be engaging with our industry colleagues and the government in such a collaborative fashion on something so tangible. I look forward to providing more updates in time.

Graeme Muller

NZTech We connect, promote and advance the New Zealand Technology ecosystem to help the tech sector and the economy grow.