Dropping the ball: skills crisis deepens as Kiwi students shun digital

Dropping the ball: skills crisis deepens as Kiwi students shun digital

Tertiary education's reliance on foreign students for revenue, masked a decline in local enrolments

Graeme Muller (NZTech)

Graeme Muller (NZTech)

Credit: Supplied

A major new survey has found declining numbers of local students enrolling in digital skills courses, a trend masked by the tertiary sector's reliance on foreign students to cover costs.

While not enough Kiwis were choosing digital tech careers, the challenge was compounded by a mismatch between what the education system provided and what the tech ecosystem required.

The survey, to be released tomorrow afternoon by Digital Skills Forum, painted a picture of lost opportunity and highlighted a digital skills mismatch which was hindering growth during difficult COVID times.

Forum member and NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller said employers were not offering enough on-job training and there was a lack of participation by women, Maori and Pacific people in the New Zealand digital tech workforce.

The Digital Skills Forum was established in 2015, bringing together leading tech industry associations and government agencies focused on digital skills including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Muller said the success of the fast-growing digital technology sector is critical for New Zealand’s future.

“For the first time ever, data from the survey has been aggregated across the entire digital skills pipeline, from school to tertiary education, from education to employment, from within the market and from immigration," Muller said.

Overall, the story the research tells is one of opportunity, he said, but it also paints a picture of lost opportunity.

"When NZTech and the Digital Skills Forum undertook similar research in 2017, a series of recommendations were proposed.

“However, three years later, we find decreasing participation in technology in education and a less diverse workforce.

“We have found system wide challenges that require urgent national attention. Research shows a lack of coordinated effort, an industry reporting dramatic skills challenges driving a heavy reliance on immigration, while under investing in the development of its own workforce."

Only 30 per cent of senior secondary students took any technology subjects in 2019, representing a two percent decline year on year for the past five years, the research found. 

Only 1850 New Zealanders started an IT degree in 2019 whereas 3683 visas were granted that same year to help fill the 4462 new digital tech jobs created in 2019.

“The tertiary education system has had to focus on international students to cover its costs, masking the decline in domestic participation," Muller said. "Surprisingly, hundreds of graduates struggle to gain an internship or even an entry level job."

On the positive side, he said, the opportunity was enormous with thousands of new digital tech jobs created every year. There were jobs for everyone once the industry is better integrated with education and develop fast pathways into exciting careers.

The report will be launched at 4 pm tomorrow at the Wellington ICT Graduate School.

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