The government is continuing to ignore New Zealand’s increasingly severe IT skills shortage, despite warning signs, according to Graeme Muller, CEO of technology industry umbrella group NZTech.
“We have surveyed hundreds of NZ tech companies to see what we can be done, we have shared the data with the government, shown them the impacts and suggested options, but nothing is being done to address the problem,” Muller said
“In theory, it is simply a case of agreeing that with thousands of open roles, these technical skills are not readily available in New Zealand, using exactly the same logic as they did for vets.
“Meanwhile, the impact is that hundreds of jobs paying well over $100,000 are being shifted out of New Zealand every week and critical digital projects across business and government agencies are not getting done,” he added.
From Muller’s perspective, the government has the solution to solve the problem by allowing essential tech workers into the country, yet borders remain largely closed to outside IT talent as the threat of the ongoing pandemic rolls on.
As such, Muller is calling for an urgent review of what constitutes unique experience and technical skills, the criteria for 'Critical Workers'. Such a review could better enable access to the advanced skills needed to support New Zealand’s COVID-19 recovery, digitalisation and export growth.
“Immigration NZ [is] telling senior experienced tech people who have been living in New Zealand, working for our leading tech firms, that suddenly they don’t have enough unique experience or technical skills to enable them to bring their family to New Zealand,” Muller said.
“We are seeing large New Zealand software companies whose products are in huge demand shifting their R&D [research and development] teams into offshore locations as they are being told by Immigration that the highly skilled technical specialists they would like to employ don’t have unique experience or technical skills that qualify for a visa.
“We are seeing IT companies that build and support critical government infrastructure and who are enabling the digital transformation and productivity growth needed in New Zealand, being told that the specialist programmers or cyber security people they need should be available in a local market which currently has thousands of open jobs being promoted,” he added.
As a result, Muller claimed, projects are stalling or not getting done, cyber security is at risk, export revenues are being impacted and jobs are being sent out of New Zealand.
Moreover, New Zealand’s competitive advantage could be at risk.
“The current settings, the inability to bring critical skills into the country and the lack of humanity regarding the families of hundreds of tech workers is fast becoming a major competitive disadvantage,” Muller said.
“NZTech is calling for rapid action by the government to treat critical tech skills with at least the same enthusiasm as they do fruit pickers, actors, sports people and other so called critical workers,” he added.
The call to action comes roughly a month after NZTech revealed initial results from its industry survey aimed at gauging how the country’s pandemic-prompted border closures are impacting the availability of skills in the tech sector.
The survey’s early results painted a picture of a nation desperately short of critical digital skills.
When the survey had been in the market for just two weeks, it showed that 235 initial respondents claimed to collectively have had almost 2,000 open jobs for which they were struggling to recruit talent.
Muller estimated at the time that there could have been as many as 10,000 open roles in the market during the month of July alone.
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.