With an estimated 10,000 open jobs in the tech sector, Aotearoa is at real risk of being unable to deliver its digital ambitions.
In August, NZ Tech published a report on the skills crisis the sector faces, which shows the combined impact of huge industry growth and COVID-related border closures. In the last few years the sector has focused on filling mid-senior tech positions by reaching into the global pool of talented individuals and selling them on the Kiwi lifestyle.
This approach makes technology an exclusive club that doesn’t really look like our community – Māori are significantly underrepresented at only 4% of the industry’s workforce. If you believe in the power of diverse thinking and perspectives, it’s a missed opportunity to add more horsepower into an industry that thrives on creativity and innovation.
If we don’t fix this, the equity gap between Māori and non-Māori will continue to grow. Tech salaries are increasing – the median salary is over $95k – and Aotearoa is producing more start-up success on the local and global stage. Lack of Māori participation means money and opportunities bypassing Māori households and communities, which has intergenerational consequences.
There needs to be targeted investment by Government and industry to ensure equitable digital access for tamariki and rangatahi. It’s no longer acceptable that young Māori don’t have the opportunity to explore, develop and learn digital skills. Collectively, we need to create the environment for all young people to engage confidently with technology and to shift their mindset from consumers to digital innovation creators.
If the tech industry is serious about creating a workforce that’s more diverse, then it needs to start walking the talk and focus efforts into the right stage. We need to shift effort and resources towards initiatives that engage and inspire tamariki and rangatahi, rather than waiting for graduates with whakapapa to roll out of tertiary training institutions.
Our approach to training also needs to be re-thought. Currently there is a high burden on employers to make heavy investments (time and money) in graduates to become ‘project’ or ‘client’ ready, productive team members. The general feeling in the industry is that while graduates come with enthusiasm, critical-thinking and a level of industry awareness, we effectively give them all of their work-experience. This bites particularly hard for the small and medium parts of the tech sector.
One solution is to learn from other industries and shift away from multi-year courses that don’t reflect how the industry works. Technology skills development is much better suited to vocational education where tauira (students) can learn the craft and specific skills industry needs from a blend of classroom/virtual in an actual work environment. That’s the approach we’ve taken with our Ignite programme, which provides on-the-job learning for participants, while they work towards technology certification through one of our alliance partners.
This approach removes another barrier for Māori – the cost of tertiary education. That’s both the cost of tuition and the unseen cost of sacrificing wages and income to support themselves and whānau. Shifting to a vocational training model, in a partnership between Government, industry and training institutions, would provide a significantly higher quality of education that meets industry demands and allows people to earn while they learn. Government will need to offer incentives to support organisations making this investment in our future generations.
The tech industry is known for its ability to meet complex challenges with innovative solutions. In the case of addressing the talent shortage, it will take a sector-wide collaboration and an openness to new ways of doing things to solve it.
By Rob Fisher
Rob Fisher, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whakaue, is Technology Consulting Lead Partner at PwC New Zealand. For more information please contact Elsa Wrathall 0274 595 540.