ChannelLife NZ - Plugging the skills gap

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Plugging the skills gap

ACE Diploma of Computer Technology students Shayna Bryers and Michael Lovell recently started their internships. The Channel decided to give them a break this issue to allow them to settle in, and spoke instead to ACE Managing Director Tony Skelton, who reflects on the inaugural course. We also spoke to New Zealand Information and Communications Technology Group CEO Brett O’Riley, who asserts that internships could do much to alleviate the skills shortage that the industry is experiencing.

It’s been a long time coming, but the inaugural ACE Diploma in Computer Technology students are now officially on their internships. At the time of writing, most were only a few days into their new roles, but encouragingly, ACE’s Managing Director Tony Skelton had already received some positive feedback from one of the students. “I will always be grateful for this opportunity,” wrote ACE student Oni Hiemstra to Skelton in an email. According to Skelton, Hiemstra is enjoying his new role very much, fi tting in extremely well, and his colleagues are already singing his praises for his technical expertise. “That’s a particular student that came to us with no IT background whatsoever, but had a passion to have a career in the IT industry. I think he’s going to be hugely successful,” said Skelton.

It’s but the latest in a chain of events that’s reassuring Skelton of the validity of the diploma. “The course has gone very well, and from the point of view that we’ve achieved our goals in that we’ve got a 100% pass rate. That’s a huge standard,” he explained. “We know that this qualifi cation meets the market demand, and we will be very disappointed if the IT companies don’t see the value in this course and [don’t] reopen the door.”

Recent developments in the IT business sphere have Skelton a little concerned about the state of the industry for graduates and new entrants. “There are signs at this stage that most major organisations in the IT industry are not hiring staff,” he continues. “The reason we set up the internship as part of the program is that it overcomes the perennial question: ‘How on earth [do students] get the opportunity to get experience if the prospective employer is not going to give them that opportunity?’”

It’s an interesting situation because, although New Zealand Information and Communications Technology Group CEO Brett O’Riley agrees that companies are cagey about taking on new staff, there’s also a very clear and present industry-wide skills shortage. “I think we’ve had a residual skills shortage in the industry for some time. We’re not seeing a lot of downsizing in the ICT sector, but I think it’s fair to say that companies are being cautious about hiring,” he says.

According to O’Riley, the skills-shortage problem can be traced as far down the line as the way in which the ICT industry is perceived by secondary school students. “ICT is a ‘profi ciency’ subject at NCEA and not an ‘achievement’ subject, [so] it’s not taken seriously by a lot of students,” explains O’Riley. “In fact it was described to me by some of the computer science students at the Microsoft Imagine Cup. When I asked them, ‘Why don’t more of your friends do ICT?’ they said, ‘Because they see it as a “bum” subject.’ There are no achievement standards, so it’s pretty much the same as doing woodwork. So why would they want to do a  subject that’s not a serious subject when they can do other things?”

O’Riley contends that work needs to be done to “demystify” ICT; that there needs to be education surrounding career prospects for ICT graduates, and that “ICT skills are not just skills that are used directly in our industry, but they’re also used across the board”. He even thinks that their parents, who may have witnessed the dot-com crash, might not feel that the industry is a stable one, and may discourage their children from pursuing such a career.

That said, O’Riley recognises the value in encouraging a culture of internship among ICT companies and insists that work is being done in this very area. “One of the things that comes through in the survey and discussions I’ve had with people is that, while technical skills are important, so, also, is experience,” he says. “So it’s something that we’re very keen to see grow, and I think it’s absolutely essential; not just giving people the hard skills – the certifi cations – but soft skills in terms of the people skills and the experience to be able to succeed.”

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