In the latest installment of Industry Voice, NZICT Group CEO Brett O’Riley explains that the key to improving New Zealand’s ICT skills lies not only in training, but explaining its importance to the public.
The recently released NZICT Group skills survey illustrates that there are a number of skills shortages in the ICT sector, but it also highlights the need to address New Zealand’s digital literacy. The ICT industry has known for quite some time that a shortage in qualified and skilled technical staff affects business operations. The NZICT study, developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Economic Development, has for the first time quantified this with empirical evidence. Some 83% of survey respondents note that a shortage of skilled staff has a medium to major effect on business. This is not only concerning from an industry perspective, but from the perspective of the New Zealand business sector as a potential constraint to growth. For ICT companies to provide services to the private and public sectors as well as general consumers, they must have skilled and suitably experienced staff on the ground. As a nation, we also need to address digital literacy and as the group that represents the ICT industry, we are pleased to see that the government understands the importance of raising awareness of ICT and digital literacy as a way to raise our economic profile. We must ensure that this understanding translates into a clear education pathway from primary to tertiary, and we are consistently pushing this message in our interaction with educationalists. There needs to be a clear understanding in the education sector that technology education, across ICT, science, engineering and research, is the key to changing New Zealand’s economic performance. The government is committed to an investment program to improve the broadband infrastructure for schools. We need to ensure that our teachers are maximising IT as a learning tool within the classroom, and we will be working closely with the Ministry of Education and teachers’ groups on this. We also need to ensure the curriculum is broad-based and delving into some of the technicalities behind ICT. The curriculum needs to highlight the broad ICT employment opportunity base, in the vertical supply side or in the myriad of ICT roles in the broader business and public sectors. Meanwhile, the skills survey indicates that the industry has weathered the recession relatively well compared to other industries, but it does not necessarily mean that the industry is maximising its potential. The New Zealand IT industry alone will generate $1.8 billion in new tax revenues and contribute revenues of $3.2 billion to GDP this year, but there is still a long way to go to maximise potential earnings and economic gains. The National government understands that ICT is integral to raising the profile of New Zealand’s economic and trading portfolios. Nonetheless, jargon such as the ‘weightless economy’ and the ‘light economy’ has been thrown around long enough. At the recent Korea Australia New Zealand broadband summit in Auckland, Korean delegates revealed that ICT will soon make up 30% of their country’s overall exports. If New Zealand wants to reach these lofty heights and step-change its economic performance, it needs to address the digital skills and literacy issues. Getting ubiquitous fibre into the ground is a good start, but we also need skilled people to create the systems and applications that will improve the nation and raise our export status.The public needs to be made aware of the potential power of ICT, not only at a business level, but also from a personal perspective. NZICT, along with the government and other organisations, is working to demystify ICT in the public’s eye as a way to address the apparent skills shortage. These issues are paramount to NZICT and its members and the industry as a whole. You can be certain that you will hear more from us on these issues over the coming months.