Account Manager at the Ministry of Social Development within the Employer Services unit Grayson Zhang tells us about the skills shortage in NZ and how this could be a catalyst for creating new opportunities for our disadvantaged communities.
It's always interesting to see how people respond when change comes knocking. And there's no greater catalyst for change than technology. Automation and computerisation have already altered the landscape of employment, education, healthcare, and other core elements of our society. With this come the usual questions: what comes next, and how will we all adapt?
We all have a role to play in shaping this future. It's the collective responsibility of businesses, educators, government and individuals to arm themselves with new skills and knowledge that will benefit them in the new world. The most common advice from writers on the subject is to futureproof yourself through continual training and upskilling. Don't simply wait for the inevitable.
Of course, this opens up a dialogue about accessibility. In particular, how will our most disadvantaged communities be affected? Change can only become opportunity for those who have the means to capitalise on it. This begins with education, and judging from the growing prevalence of bring-your-own-device policies and e-learning platforms in our schools, New Zealand is making significant strides in preparing future generations for the workforce of the future. But as always, there is more work to be done.
A salient example is the “digital divide” in New Zealand and globally. An AUT report, “The Internet in New Zealand 2015”, found that internet users represented 90% of New Zealanders, as compared with 82% in 2007. However, the same report reflects that the distribution of internet access is still far from being a level playing field, especially when it comes to lower-income households, Maori and Pasifika communities, and those living in rural areas. In this vein, it is noteworthy that in MBIE's “Maori ICT Report 2015”, only 2.5% of the total Maori workforce is engaged in the IT sector.
One of the most exciting things about the internet and the development of new technologies is their potential to democratise access to knowledge and self-development. In this respect, it is critical that the most vulnerable sections of our society are not left behind. Along with educators and government, industry bodies and employers have a key role to play in addressing this gap, not only from the point of view of corporate social responsibility, but also to ensure the existence of a healthy, ongoing local talent pipeline.
The current skills shortage in the IT sector is well-documented. NZTech has estimated that amongst its membership, roughly 10,000 new employees will be needed over the next 3 years. This is reflective of a global situation: in Europe alone, an estimated 800,000 skilled ICT workers will be needed by 2020. However, this lack may be an opportunity in disguise - an opportunity for the industry to take control, not only taking measures to address immediate demand, but also helping to create and shape a future talent pipeline, especially at a local level.
A key aspect of this pipelining will be discovering ways to make the sector more accessible at every level. Education has a big part to play, and the Ministry of Education's intention to fully integrate digital technology into the New Zealand curriculum will undoubtedly be closely followed. Along with these long term strategies, it’s noteworthy that a number of initiatives have evolved to bring those without prior industry experience or qualifications into the fold. Take for example the High Tech Youth network, which offers opportunities for training, mentorship, and hands-on project involvement for young people in underserved communities. Or Dev Academy, which offers an immersive ‘boot camp' web development programme, with an emphasis on individuals transitioning to IT from other industry backgrounds. Both organisations illustrate potential pathways through which the tech sector can start to engage with previously untapped talent supplies.
Another possible solution for the skills shortage problem is workplace diversity. It’s exciting to see the range of diversity initiatives already underway in the tech industry, both at home and abroad. Many current initiatives are geared towards encouraging women into this arena, a move mirrored by the construction and transport sectors, amongst others. A prominent example of recent local success is the ShadowTech campaign, which gave female students in Years 9-11 the opportunity to be mentored by women already working within the tech sector. Of course, gender diversity is one of a wide range of possibilities for workplace diversification. Abroad, Hewlett-Packard launched the Dandelion Project in 2014, a recruitment programme specifically designed for onboarding candidates with autism. More recently, Microsoft has been gearing up to host the first Autism@Work virtual career fair.
So, what comes next, and how will we adapt? From the ingenuity and innovation shown by recent initiatives driven by the tech industry and the communities they are part of, the outlook is bright. The key will be to maintain the momentum behind these initiatives, expand and integrate what already exists, and continue seeking new ways to nurture and develop the workforce of the future.
Grayson Zhang is an Account Manager at the Ministry of Social Development within the Employer Services unit, which works with national employers and providers to help New Zealanders into employment. He is currently developing an IT-focused pilot programme for disadvantaged youth to provide them with industry exposure and align them with recognised IT certification. If you are interested or would like more information, please email Grayson.Zhang001@msd.govt.nz.