Kiwi ICT professionals to have skills vetted

Kiwi ICT professionals to have skills vetted

The competencies of New Zealand ICT professionals will be vetted under a scheme planned by the New Zealand Computer Society and may well be more stringent than similar programmes in place in some other countries, says the Society.

These differences could apply “particularly in the areas of core professional values covering topics such as business alignment and responsibilities, legal requirements, adherence to all appropriate codes of ethics, and general professional behaviours,” says the NZCS in a draft report to be put before regional meetings of the membership starting today.

A major purpose of the plan is to give local computer professionals a recognised certification comparable with those for other professions such as accountancy and the law.

Competence levels will be the same for NZ as for Australia and the UK, says NZCS CEO Paul Matthews, but assessment could be more stringently impartial. In the UK, for example, two referees known to the candidate will typically attest to his or her competence. The NZCS plan is to use independent referees.

Otherwise, the proposed format will draw extensively on British and Australian Computer Society material and will be aligned with professional standards promulgated by the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3), linked to the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP).

The link with international standards is expected to improve job opportunities for Kiwis going overseas and to raise confidence in the capabilities of overseas staff coming to New Zealand to work.

The Society identifies a number of problems that it sees as being tackled by a defined professional standard. Foremost is the widely lamented shortfall in the number of workers against the skills needed to fill the jobs currently available.

Other perceived problems include a shortfall of the current competence level of individual staff within organisations and mismatches between the specific strengths of the trainee or graduating student and the needs of the employer. Mismatch is assumed to arise from “course or curriculum misalignment”.

All these lead to an unsatisfactory “fill rate”, says the NZCS — a measurable quantity reflecting the relative difficulty employers are having in filling vacancies.

More broadly, computing needs to become a recognised profession to encourage recruitment, the NZCS says. “It is difficult to market or inspire public confidence in a profession that has not defined itself.”

The Society plans to adopt SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age) developed in the UK. This is a multi-dimensional model that stipulates skills necessary for particular roles and the levels of competence required in each.

“Whilst SFIA as a framework is freely available to any end-user, NZCS will package the framework into a structure suitable for New Zealand, including providing (or accrediting) formal assessments of ICT professionals, mapping of courses and training opportunities, providing ICT professionals with career pathways and guidance to grow as professionals, and the overarching NZCS Professional Certification,” the report says.

By mapping existing courses and associated examination to the framework, the Society will avoid some of the workload of assessing candidates itself, as well as avoiding friction with academic institutions, which might see it as trespassing on their territory.

Ten workstreams have been identified covering such areas as implementation of the framework, definition of a body of knowledge, assessment procedures, marketing of the concept of an IT professional and overall governance.

A major choice to be made is whether to lift a certification programme directly from the UK or Australia or “go it alone” with a New Zealand specific set of standards. Licensing a programme would involve less work but impose costs that would flow through to candidates for certification. The solo solution is not as arduous as it might seem, says the Society. Since a lot of international work has been done, much of the necessary support and guidance is available without a formal licensing arrangement.

Development of a professional framework represents a major workload, Matthews confirms; currently he and one other staff member are pushing the project through with administrative support. A third person is about to be appointed full-time for at least the next month or two to liaise with “stakeholders” such as employers and educational establishments.

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