The IT Skills Deficit

By Murray Wills • December 5th, 2008

Do you have an opinion on how New Zealand, and other countries could solve the IT Skills shortage?

In 2005, Robert Sutcliffe and I wrote an academic paper on this topic.

Our research indicated that this is an issue that would affect a number of countries, worldwide, not just New Zealand. Given that New Zealand graduates are very mobile, it is likely that without some form of bonding, or encouragement to come back after their OE, even if we manage to enthuse students at an early age to persue IT (with all of its diverse career paths) as a profession, we will loose many overseas.

This may be at the expense of the NZ IT industry as we will be competing with a worldwide shortage of talent.

Really, nothing much has changed (apart from the skills deficit becoming more pronounced), so for interest and background to a poll we are running I have detailed the topic below.

You can take place in our Quick poll on this topic by entering the poll on the home page.

The Press release on the topic was as follows:

PRESS RELEASE 8 July 2005

Secure your IT Staff

That’s the message from Murray Wills of Maxsys Consulting and Robert Sutcliffe from Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec) who have conducted a study into the rapidly growing global IT skills shortage that is having an impact on New Zealand. The study shows some worrying trends for employers and the economy.

The news is good for IT professionals. In the next few years it is predicted that in many countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Britain, USA, Europe and India, IT professionals will be in demand. “Confidence is returning to a sector that was knocked around after Y2K and the dot com crash” says Wills. “Unfortunately, we have seen a global downturn in students studying IT in the last few years. This will lead to a worldwide shortage of graduates”.

“With a shortage of suitable staff many projects may not be able to start, or may suffer delays. This will not just affect technology companies. One study showed that 92 percent of IT workers in the US were employed by non-technology businesses reliant on IT to maintain competitiveness and lower costs,” says Mr Wills.

According to Mr Wills the Government may need to look at creative ways of encouraging people to study information technology if New Zealand is to avoid a decline in competitiveness and economic growth. “Because New Zealand is not the only country with a developing shortage, we now find ourselves in global competition to attract and retain staff,” says Mr Wills.

“One way of encouraging more students may be to offer fees scholarships for IT study, or to give a period of tax breaks in certain key skills shortage areas to attract workers to New Zealand.”

Referring to a report recently completed for the Ministry of Education by Linda Leach and Nick Zepke of Massey University College of Education Science and Technology Mr Wills says, “Programmes in schools that target years 11 and over go someway towards developing an interest in these areas, but work needs to begin well before year 11. Many students are making career choices in late primary school and very early secondary school.”

Wills’ and Sutcliffe’s study outlines the sort of initiatives that were used during a similar shortage from 1999 to mid 2001 and suggests a wide variety of methods to alleviate the issue. Collaboration between tertiary institutions, government and industry is high on the list.

“Industry can help by promoting IT careers,” says Wills. “Internships, scholarships, graduate recruitment schemes, summer employment are also very useful vehicles that benefit students and industry. Retention schemes, share options, work variety, and mentoring have proved popular in the past. Referral programmes offering rewards to staff who recommend new employees is also something that we might see again.

No one technique will guarantee success according to Mr Sutcliffe. “In the long term anticipating workforce skill needs, promotion of IT careers and well aligned training are the keys to sustaining this vital skill set,” says Sutcliffe.

WelTec has seen an increase in recent months of industry contacting them asking for graduates, or students to do part-time work. “This contact is vital,” says Sutcliffe, “as is constant alignment of training and education to industry needs. It is important that we work on this issue together.”

[Ends]

Murray Wills is former Head of the School of Information Technology at WelTec. He is currently a Director of Lower Hutt based Business and IT Consultancy, Maxsys Consulting.

Robert Sutcliffe is a Programme Manager in the School of Information Technology at the Wellington Institute of Technology.

If you would like to read the academic version then please go to the following link:

NACCQ Conference 2005 Paper

 

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