Industry group NZTech is welcoming a new government plan to grant border exceptions for up to 600 tech workers, but describes it as a "drop in the ocean".
The technology industry uber-group this morning said it was pleased the government had responded to the critical digital skills shortage.
"This is a drop in the ocean for the actual numbers needed to support the continued growth of New Zealand’s tech sector and the growing number of critical digital projects across multiple government agencies and large businesses, however it will definitely help reduce some of the pressure,” NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller said.
The "Digital Skills for our Digital Future" report released earlier this year highlighted New Zealand’s digital skills mismatch, driven by increasing demand for advanced skills while at the same time producing a low level of suitable graduates.
“To keep up with demand, between 3500 and 4500 IT visas have been issued each year for the past five years,” Muller said
The skills mismatch became a critical skills shortage when New Zealand's borders were closed in response to COVID-19. New digital jobs continued to be created at a rate of more than five per cent each year, but the major source of advanced skills and experience needed was turned off.
“NZTech’s critical workers survey in July found that there were several thousand open roles for a broad range of senior experienced digital workers including product managers for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies like Xero, interactive media experts for gaming companies, software engineers, data specialist, technical architects and more," Muller said.
Minister for the digital economy and communications David Clark this morning announced the border class exceptions, saying jobs in the sector had been growing at twice the rate of the general economy even during the pandemic.
“The class exception announced today will relieve some of the pressure on New Zealand tech firms and support their continued growth and export earnings," Clark said.
“We’re carefully targeting areas of the sector where industry has highlighted a clear need for overseas talent including, software development, product managers, cyber security and interactive media."
Providing this border exception was part of the next step in the government’s phased approach to reconnecting with the world, he said.
However, any border opening is still a balancing act between supporting the economy and minimising the risks to communities and the health system.
“Resolving the skills mismatch is crucial for the tech sector to grow," Clark said. "However, government also realises the development of tech skills within New Zealand is fundamental for the industry to realise its potential."
As part of an industry transformation partnership between government and the industry, the sector has made a commitment to invest in developing domestic talent, rather than relying on overseas talent to fill the gaps.
“I look forward to continuing to work with the industry on how to ensure the education system is supporting this, by delivering the skills that the New Zealand industry needs,” Clark said.
The tech sector is creating a large variety of high-paid jobs that could suit all sorts of people, Muller said. The median base salary for someone in the tech sector is now over $100,000 or twice the median wage.
However, growing the local supply will take several years so the special tech visas were a "first step in the right direction".