New Zealand’s IT industry continues to provide some of our nation’s highest paying jobs, creating thousands of well-paid roles annually, with an average salary of approximately $100,000 per annum. But it’s still not making the grade in terms of attracting our next generation of homegrown Kiwi techs.
It’s no secret that our tech sector relies heavily on recruiting overseas IT talent. New Zealand has always had a shortage of tech skills, a situation that has been exacerbated over the last two years by the Covid-19 pandemic and our subsequent border closures.
In shifting our scope to sourcing our own Kiwi talent, the shortage in skilled tech professionals is glaring and our youth are not eager to consider tech as a future career. Case in point – over the last five years there has been a two percent decrease every year of Kiwi students completing NCEA technology standards.
A career in technology offers great earning potential, there is high demand and plenty of opportunity to do interesting work, so why aren’t young Kiwis rushing into a career in IT?
There is no straightforward answer to this question.
New Zealand is facing several challenges – our education systems are lacking qualified digital teachers, there is little student interest in pursuing tech careers, and minimal interest from female and ethnic minority groups.
Then there is the experience of recent graduates and secondary students who are entering the workforce.
Even with the current IT skills shortage our university IT graduates are struggling to find work. This is because the shortage of skills in our tech industry can be better described as a mismatch of skills5. Most of the IT roles available in New Zealand require high levels of experience or are more senior in nature, which translates to an excess of graduates who aren’t skilled enough to find a job.
There are proven solutions such as internships and graduate programmes that help grads get experience and grow their skills, but they are not widely implemented across our tech industry.
There’s room for improvement and ways to get our kids more interested and invested in a career in tech, let’s take a closer look at some of the factors at play.
While Kiwi children in primary and intermediate schools may not be making concrete career decisions, education and role models are a powerful influence during this stage of their lives.
A recent survey asked 7,200 primary and intermediate Kiwi kids to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. The top career choice out of this survey was a professional sportsman, followed by a social media influencer, and an artist/illustrator. IT took the 45th spot, behind a fast-food worker1.
The survey found that subliminal factors of the kids’ ethnic background, gender identification, and socio-economic status can affect their future career decisions. The number of jobs these children listed was quite small, which is reflective of the limited number of careers they see around them – through family members, or media depictions.
It was found that over a third of Kiwi kids admired an occupation held by a family member, especially when they perceived this family member to be satisfied in their role.
Role models at schools have proven effective in inspiring children to consider other possible careers and challenge any pre-conceived gender or ethnic stereotypes. Children as young as four years old can already have gender-based career bias and we must start promoting our diverse tech role models and tech careers to our primary aged kids.
At high school, each year that goes by is another inch towards making an important decision, whether to invest in tertiary study or not – and if so, what field?
Kiwi kids at secondary school are increasingly aware of the job market, and which jobs are in demand, including technology3.
Even at 14 years old, kids begin to consider wanting careers that match their personal values and which will give them a sense of purpose. They also assume their best skills will provide the most value in their future jobs – given the IT world is forever developing and changing, this can be a bit daunting for them to consider.
The time spent at school can be crucial to determining their future pathways, whether that be through skills picked up at school, or inspiring conversations with teachers and visiting role models. Parents can also influence career pathway decisions, from watching over homework, or providing support around career goals.
From the educational side the implementation of STEM/STEAM based learning is showing positive results. This is an educational initiative with the goal to encourage and grow specific areas of interest among students, including technology4. It uses practical learning activities and creative thinking to solve real life problems, prioritising job market shortages.
Schools are implementing these programmes to provide kids the tools to tackle the modern world. This style of learning aims to encourage kids to become tech inventors and creators, and to think outside the box.
There is also a push to boost IT education amongst teachers, in 2022 tech industry body NZTech worked with the Ministry of Education to run the ShadowTech Teachers event. This provided key tech information and pathway guidance to secondary school Kiwi teachers, with the intention that they implemented this in their classrooms2.
The number of Kiwi students undertaking NCEA technology standards is decreasing by two percent each year, affecting the number of students entering the IT tertiary field. IT course enrolments have been decreasing by two percent since 20156, and the lower-level courses seeing the largest decline of -20 percent6.
While higher degree enrolments have increased, largely due to a boost of international students, domestic students have shown flat growth of enrolment.
In 2019, only 11 percent of year 13 students that passed their NCEA technology standards pursued tertiary study in IT6.
Defined career pathways, clear and effective messaging to students, and the option to be paid while learning are just some factors affecting students when selecting a career path or tertiary course. Industries such as construction are showing an increase of employees, and this is likely due to the connection between industry and education.
As the tech industry continues to change, reviews are being done by IT Professionals New Zealand and NZQA to ensure the tertiary educational system is providing the skills required for the modern world of technology.
The New Zealand Government further invested $28.6 million from 2015 – 2019, to evolve three ICT Graduate schools in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch6. The intention was to provide industry based educational resources to enrich the connection between education and IT companies. Between 2017 – 2019, this has seen a 59 percent increase in students graduating with post-graduate diplomas or Masters qualifications6.
Across the globe, governments have tackled the technology job shortage in many ways. Some are investing in continuous professional development and adding technology certifications and credentials to teaching degrees. Encouragement for students to invest in their IT passions is growing, in and outside of school. Female and minority groups are being driven to tech educational programmes tailored to them.
To continue improvement within New Zealand’s future tech space, we need to focus on all stages of the process, from primary school to graduate levels.
We must promote our tech industry better, the scope of roles within it and show how these roles help others and shape our world.
Our educators also need to be resourced on this journey, so students who are interested in the tech space are supported in the right direction and given clear pathway options.
Helping our new Kiwi graduates to gain real-world experience with access to internship programmes is a great way for New Zealand businesses to get fresh talent and ideas into their business, while also building our homegrown talent pool. It’s an excellent tool to bridge the gap between education and skilled work.
Popular internship programme the Summer of Tech makes sure that interns’ skills are matched with businesses’ needs, and the result is that most interns placed are retained beyond the summer. This programme has been a huge success in New Zealand, and they are always asking for more companies to take part.
We’d love to know your thoughts about this topic! Please feel free to share your comments or get in touch with us. We’re passionate about IT in New Zealand and we’d love to hear from others who share our passion!