Covid 19: Urgent call to upskill and retain staff in tech sector for post pandemic demand

Kiwi employers need to urgently address training in digital skills if New Zealand is going to be the hi-tech economy needed post-Covid, say experts.

The release of the Digital Skills Aotearoa report revealed that despite New Zealand producing almost 6000 IT graduates each year, most of the roles available needed senior-level experience and went to overseas talent.

The report, collated by NZTech and the Digital Skills Forum, said the New Zealand economy was “seriously restricted” by a digital skills mismatch.

Ben Morgan, from digital consultant group Accenture, warned New Zealand would suffer unless businesses made changes to attract graduates, retain and upskill staff.

“The global pandemic has changed how businesses operate. As they digitise more of their operations and offer greater flexibility for employees to work from home, demand for skilled IT professionals will undoubtedly increase,” he said.

“However, with borders closed businesses cannot rely on immigration to plug the skills gap. They will need to invest in upskilling the existing workforce to fill those roles and provide good career path opportunities for graduates.”

Morgan said there were thousands of eager and ambitious IT graduates looking to make their mark on the industry.

“It would be nonsensical to not properly develop specialist IT skills locally.”

The onus was on business to provide more internships and graduate training to equip the next generation of Kiwi IT specialists with practical experience, he said.

“A failure to do so risks New Zealand not having the depth of skills and experiences required for the IT challenges the country will face.”

The Digital Skills Aotearoa report also found that IT professionals had a very high rate of turnover, with almost one in five changing roles each year.

That rate had a harmful effect on businesses and showed many workers could not see a path forward in their careers.

“Every industry should expect some staff turnover, but this high rate shows this is a particularly acute problem for New Zealand’s IT industry,” Morgan said.

“High levels of staff churn are bad for team culture and businesses’ bottom lines.”

Morgan said the low rate of staff retention was evidence professionals in the IT industry did not feel valued.

“IT firms need to make a conscious effort to upskill all members of their workforce to build institutional skills and knowledge,” he said.

“Project teams should involve a mix of skills and experiences so that more junior staff can receive on-the-job mentorship from senior team members.”

Morgan said businesses had also been slow to incorporate and upskill Māori and Pasifika professionals and women into senior positions in the tech industry.

“For New Zealand to take its place in the world as a thriving hub of hi-tech innovation and entrepreneurship, businesses need to step up and support the next generation of talented Kiwi IT professionals entering the sector,” he said.

Accenture New Zealand had partnered with TupuToa, an organisation that grows Māori and Pacific leaders for roles in government and corporates, to address this issue.

Accenture also supports Girls in STEM, an initiative to encourage more young women to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing.

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