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Three ways of addressing the IT ‘skills gap’ in New Zealand

By Sara Barker, Wed 18 Jul 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

As we all know, recruitment in New Zealand is notoriously difficult, particularly in the technology industry. New Zealand needs to educate or import thousands more information technology workers each year if it is to close a growing skills gap in the industry, according to a government-backed report. 

The Digital Skills Forum study found the ICT sector employed 120,350 people in 2016 when it created 14,000 jobs, but only 5,090 graduates entered the industry the previous year and only 5,050 visas were granted to immigrants with technology skills, it said.

To exacerbate this problem, we have historically had large numbers of talented New Zealander technology professionals moving overseas to find work (possibly because they can secure better remuneration overseas), and employers that grapple with bias, either conscious or unconscious, toward certain minority demographics.  These biases can lead to excluded consideration when hiring or developing the talent pipeline based on age, sex, culture, or disabilities.

There is another way

Due to our geographical isolation, New Zealand’s business community has become used to being self-sufficient. We have smaller teams who are experts in their field and as a result are more nimble and agile. New Zealand businesses are generally not afraid to take risks and there is a strong sense of innovation in our DNA. Even mature New Zealand businesses have demonstrated their ability to pivot and make decisions much more quickly than its overseas counterparts.

As a result, New Zealand is seeing success overseas - Grow North’s “Fast Five” companies are generating more than $90 million in revenue in the North America market and has the capability to offer challenging and rewarding careers to New Zealanders. Consequently, we’re already seeing young Kiwis return to New Zealand after spending time overseas, bringing with them relevant experience and skills.

So how do technology businesses in New Zealand continue to attract talent so they can innovate and grow moving forward?

1. Bridging the skills gap

According to the World Economic Forum, many of the skills we need for the future are ever-changing – disrupted by the rapidly evolving technology market. Demand for digital skills, in particular, is on the rise from employers across New Zealand and we expect this trend to continue. However, digital skills are evolving and the pool of talent with existing experience in this area is small. So, hiring new talent based on their experience and skill-set is an outdated model that will only perpetuate the skills gap[1]. Instead businesses should look to:

2. Re-skill existing staff

Going forward, we’ll need a generation of workers who are hungry to learn and eager to keep pace with the times. Organisations should look for curious, flexible employees with the proven ability to keep learning and stay relevant in their field of expertise; people who actively pursue opportunities where their transferable skills might be applicable. Businesses will then need to invest in the appropriate learning and development to help these talented employees transfer into new roles.

3. Recruit from different demographics

It’s easy to say your organisation doesn’t discriminate against potential employees due to gender, race, age or disability and for almost all of us that’s true. We certainly never would intentionally discriminate against anyone.  But what about the unintentional discrimination that may be going on without anyone even realising?

Unconscious bias happens when our brains make incredibly quick judgements and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We are more than likely not aware of these views, but their impact is still fully-felt.

Though it's rooted in human nature, it's important to understand what unconscious bias is, in order to overcome it and build strong, diverse teams. Appropriate  will teach you and your employees about the different kinds of unconscious bias and how to recognise them in action as well as how to address unconscious bias in the workplace.

There is no doubt the technology sector in New Zealand is a great place to work. Having spent a number of years working with Skillsoft customers and teams in high-growth markets before returning to New Zealand, I believe there is no other region that offers the unique organisational culture and business environment New Zealand does. This country has much to offer both existing and potential employees.

However, technology businesses need to learn to look beyond their traditional recruitment avenues and start investing in reskilling existing employees as well as recruiting from previously neglecting minority groups to attract and retain talent. This will ensure a strong pool of talent to help local business innovate and grow in an increasingly competitive global market.

Article by Skillsoft New Zealand sales director Kath Greenhough.

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