Serious tech skills shortage will keep impacting the economy

The serious ongoing digital skills shortage will continue to impact all parts of the economy unless Aotearoa gets better at investing in the future and musters more students into tech as a career, states Graeme Muller.

While all sectors are experiencing skills shortages, NZTech has been reaching out to find how much critical digital skills shortages are impacting all parts of the New Zealand economy.

NZTech, the organisation tasked with providing the voice for the technology ecosystem, regularly carries out digital skills surveys which show a desperate need to find solutions. 

 Prior to Covid, 3,000 to 4,000 tech professionals immigrated to New Zealand each year. But the pandemic stopped that and the lack of tech skills is choking the pace of New Zealand’s recovery.

With more than 22,000 high tech firms in New Zealand, plus many businesses attempting to become more digital, the demand for digital skills has substantially outstretched supply.

The impact is huge and there are worrying signs of the impact of these skills shortages on staff, with reports of stress and health and well-being issues increasing.

We have been working hard with the Ministry of Education and other key government agencies to encourage more Kiwi kids into tech career pathways, but it will take years to build up the local talent pool.

If we can resolve the dearth of digital skills, the growing New Zealand tech sector is on track to become New Zealand’s largest export sector before 2030.

We hope more New Zealanders will start considering tech as a career for themselves or their kids, especially as median salaries are now in excess of $100,000 a year. The variety of jobs available is enormous – ranging from creative to analytical and in companies right across New Zealand.

As a country, we need to get more kids involved in tech. There are many ways we can help. There are opportunities through TechHub  to visit local schools and talk to students about a job in tech, or be involved in ShadowTech to host students and teachers in the workplace.

The Laptop Drop is looking to expand into more schools next year. If any firm or person has a spare developer laptop, please consider donating them for this worthwhile initiative. Currently, schools sign up to the programme for the number and types of devices they need. 

Other great initiatives for delivering devices to students include Recycle a Device (RAD) and Digital Wings.

The team at RAD match those who need a laptop with a donated and refurbished device. RAD takes donated laptops and teaches students how to refurbish them. It then works with community groups to find students who need them.

Digital Wings contributes directly to digital inclusion and equity by redeploying laptops, desktops, tablets and mobile phones to charities, marae, community organisations and rōpū across Aotearoa.

To date Digital Wings has sent tech and educational resources to 651 charities to raise their digital capacity and the digital literacy of their 1.6 million clients, rangatahi and whānau. They have deep reach into rural and remote rohe where need is most acute.

 Another great charity, Kiwibots, helps students learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a fun and engaging way, using tools like VEX Robotics, which is a global leader in robotics education, supporting many robotics programmes and initiatives across Aotearoa.  

Kiwibots runs New Zealand’s only large-scale robotics education and competition programme covering all levels of schooling from primary to university.

At any one time there are about 2,500 digital tech jobs being marketed in NZ via job platforms like LinkedIn and Seek. About 5,000 new digital tech jobs are being created every year and this is growing. The opportunities for all Kiwis are enormous.

Only about 2,000 new students annually are taking on IT degrees so we need to encourage more kids to get involved. New pathways like digital apprenticeships are being created to make it easier for more people to make a start.

However, many need help to get better access to the internet, better access to tools like laptops and better access to smart people who can inspire them and teach them about opportunities.

That is why it is so important to look for ways to help inspire the next generation into tech jobs and help provide the tools and opportunities to enable them to get started. 

Graeme Muller is the chief executive of NZTech, a NFP which brings together 20 tech associations and more than 1,600 member organisations.

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