Digital skills critical

Global analysis has found that the way governments respond to digitalisation during these Covid years will define the progress of their nation for years to come, says Graeme Muller.

New Zealand’s global digital competitiveness is falling while the Covid pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital technologies.

Companies with digital business models have been able to operate during various alert levels without significant revenue loss and many have grown.  

Businesses relying on digital infrastructures and processes have also been able to keep operating smoothly. 

At the same time, parts of the economy and groups of society are missing out on the benefits of the digital revolution, and this will only get worse if not addressed with more urgency.

Analysis of 137 countries based on data from the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, has found the way governments respond to digitalisation during these Covid years will define the progress of their nation for years to come.  

The report notes that not only are digital technologies critical, so are the skills required to develop and manage them.

Unfortunately, New Zealand is not progressing well, compared to many nations. Since 2018, New Zealand’s digital competitiveness has gone backward due to issues with the ability to hire foreign labour and the lack of graduates with digital tech skills.

New Zealand is not adapting fast enough. I might sound like a broken record but, until the Government acknowledges the importance of being able to get critical international digital skills into New Zealand, we will continue to slide backward. 

While many sectors are currently experiencing skills shortages, one of our surveys has found critical digital skills shortages are now impacting all parts of the New Zealand economy.

The respondents included New Zealand owned global tech firms and game development studios, local and multinational IT service providers, manufacturers, agribusinesses, government agencies, universities, health boards and banks.

New Zealand is desperate for more highly skilled overseas tech workers to fill this digital skills shortage. You can’t expect to go from 5,000 international workers to zero and expect business as usual. 

The rapidly growing New Zealand tech sector is being hampered. Technology is on track to become New Zealand’s largest export sector before 2030. The Covid pandemic has highlighted the comparative advantage weightless exports now offer over bulky commodities.

Productivity will get worse not better, income taxes will decrease as high paid roles continue to be shifted out of New Zealand, the algorithms that govern many aspects of our lives will lack cultural relevance and ultimately life will get harder for many more people as the years go on.

The good news is that the Government has been actively working with industry to develop a digital technology industry transformation plan which should be released soon.

This plan identifies digital skills as critical and proposes several initiatives for fixing the local pipeline including work to improve diversity including attracting more women, Māori and Pasifika toward digital careers, work to support and encourage more upskilling and reskilling and work to improve the transition from education to employment.

But this alone isn’t enough as there are already more open roles for experienced tech professionals than the local education system can meet, so we need to start making it easier to bring senior tech experience into New Zealand, or risk slipping further behind.

It is also important that every business manager doesn’t wait until it is too late. 

Consider what digital skills you are going to require and don’t assume it will be easy to find them. 

Partner with your tech vendors and local education suppliers and create opportunities for work experience and internships so you can build your own pipeline and secure your future. 


Graeme Muller is the chief executive of NZTech, a NFP organisation which brings together 20 tech associations and more than 1500 member organisations.

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