Is New Zealand facing a critical digital skills crisis?

Is New Zealand facing a critical digital skills crisis?

Almost 60 per cent of NZTech survey respondents claim to be unable to take on new work and 20 per cent are unable to complete digitisation projects already underway.

Graeme Muller (NZTech)

Graeme Muller (NZTech)

Credit: NZTech

Early findings from NZTech’s latest industry survey, aimed at gauging how the country’s pandemic-prompted border closures are impacting the availability of skills in the tech sector, paint a picture of a nation desperately short of critical digital skills.  

According to Graeme Muller, chief executive of the technology industry umbrella group, the survey has been in the market just two weeks, but already shows that the 235 respondents that have thus far provided feedback claim to collectively have almost 2,000 open jobs for which they are struggling to recruit for right now.   

Respondents to the NZTech Critical Worker Border Exemption Survey include New Zealand-owned global tech firms and game development studios, local and multinational IT service providers, high tech manufacturers, agribusinesses, universities, health boards and banks. 

“With over 20,000 high tech firms in New Zealand, plus most users of digital technology attempting to become more digital, the demand for digital skills has well and truly outstretched supply,” Muller said.  

Muller estimates there could be as many as 10,000 open roles in the market this month alone.  

Broadly, almost 60 per cent of the respondents so far claim to be unable to take on new work and 20 per cent are unable to complete digitisation projects already underway.  

There are also worrying signs of the impact of these skills shortages on staff with reports of stress and health and well-being issues increasing, NZTech claimed.  

The technology industry association collective noted that for the last five years, between 4,000 to 5,000 tech professionals have immigrated to New Zealand, but COVID-19 has halted this ongoing talent influx. 

As such, New Zealand is now increasingly desperate for more highly skilled overseas tech workers to fill this digital skills shortage, NZTech said.  

“You can’t expect to go from 5,000 international workers to zero and expect business as usual,” said Muller. “We have been working hard with the Ministry of Education to encourage more Kiwi kids into tech career pathways, but it will take years to build up the local talent pool. 

“To make matter worse, to take on more interns and graduates, companies need more experienced staff to mentor them, so the difficulty in accessing experienced international IT workers is a double-edged sword. 

“If we want to improve productivity, deliver a better health system, create high-value jobs and help companies recover from COVID by being more efficient and accessing international markets, we need to increase the number of digital technology professionals in New Zealand to enable it,” he said. 

From Muller’s perspective, New Zealand is seen as an attractive destination at present, with great opportunities for the country to attract some of the best tech talents from around the world, but the window is closing fast. 

“The rapidly growing New Zealand tech sector is being hampered,” he said. “Technology is on track to become New Zealand’s largest export sector before 2030. The COVID pandemic has highlighted the comparative advantage weightless exports now offer over bulky commodities and yet the government’s immigration policies don’t reflect this. 

“We hope that more New Zealanders will start considering tech as a career for themselves or their kids, given the large number and type of well-paid tech roles on offer with the median salaries now over $100,000 a year. The variety of jobs available is enormous ranging from creative to analytical and in companies right across New Zealand, so there is something for everyone. 

“Meanwhile we are calling on the government to take the digital skills shortages seriously if they want to avoid an economic slowdown,” he added.  

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