Developing New Zealand’s IT skills to build a better future

by Paul Ramsay on 28/01/2016 10:00

DevelopingNewZealandITskillstobuildabetterfuture

As a proudly New Zealand owned and managed IT consultancy we are passionate about the development of our country’s IT skills. This was one of the key reasons behind our decision many years ago to provide training for IT professionals as part of Equinox IT’s service offerings. IT skills are fundamental to the success of New Zealand in the future. Having the necessary IT capability to compete as a nation is critical. This article explores the initiatives that are underway to develop better IT skills by giving IT professionals a better start, and how we can all chip in to create a better future for our country as members of the New Zealand IT community.

IT skills are critical to New Zealand’s future

When the other Equinox IT founders and I started in IT, we belonged to that funny department that didn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the business. The computer – and all the people who went with it – sat in a big glass room somewhere in the building and was only approached with caution.

Today it’s a different story. Technology is becoming so ubiquitous that it touches almost every aspect of our work and personal lives. While we may not have IT departments in the future (with IT progressively being integrated into every part of the business) IT skills will continue to be increasingly important.

Every country’s’ success will be influenced strongly by their capability and creativity with technology. In New Zealand where physical distance from other nations has created a competitive disadvantage in the past, digitisation levels the playing field and enables us to take an IT leadership position that can help our country to continue to excel into the future.

Reversing the decline in IT graduates

In New Zealand the number of graduates emerging from university with computer science and information science degrees is now on the increase. Thankfully this is a reverse of previous trends where those graduating from IT was declining despite an IT skill shortage. In late 2014 Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, reported universities across the country had seen an average 20% increase in enrolments in computer science and information and communications technology courses. Yet it’s predicted that there will continue be a shortage of highly skilled IT workers in New Zealand by 2017 (now just a year away).

Around 750 New Zealanders graduate each year with a high-level ICT qualification. In a bid to mitigate academic irrelevance in the ever-evolving IT industry and boost the number of graduates, the Government set aside $29 million to set up ICT schools for postgraduates in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, which prompted a bidding process among tertiary institutions and businesses. The successful contracts were announced in July 2015. The schools are charged with teaching ICT education, research and development, and ‘collaborative activities between businesses, students, and educators’.

Coming from the perspective of an experienced IT consultant and director, I hope that the curriculum includes elements from a wide range of fields outside of ICT. In my experience the best IT professionals are those who understand the wider business context surrounding IT and have strong soft skills to work collaboratively with a wide range of people to deliver better results. New ICT school graduates with these ‘cross-over’ skills will be more successful as IT professionals than those with solely technical skills. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

How we can help as an IT community

While I am pleased to see the action from Government, this is too important an issue to expect one group alone to action. We all have a stake in this and we can all contribute in small or big ways. Here are some of my thoughts on how we can get involved as a New Zealand IT community to advance IT skills:

  • Success breeds success – the various New Zealand IT success stories we see such as Trade Me and Xero have had a positive influence on young people wanting to join our industry. We don’t all need to be Trade Me or Xero though, there are many New Zealand IT success stories big and small, private and government. If we all do our best to make IT in New Zealand a challenging, rewarding and vibrant industry then increasing numbers of smart young people will want to be part of this community. This means focusing on maximising business benefit from IT, not just for the business but also for the good of the New Zealand IT sector.
  • Invest in building IT capability – building IT skills is not just for tertiary education providers and the new ICT schools. While these are important, I am a firm believer that much of the real learning comes from doing the hard yards in real-world work situations. As businesses and organisations there is real value to us, our industry and our country in building the IT capability of our people. At Equinox IT we are always focusing on how we can better develop our people, not just through formal training courses, but also through a wide variety of engagements, active mentoring and support, and other activities such as presenting or becoming training instructors that help to extend their comfort zones and realise their potential. A real commitment to developing IT capability in this way could deliver extraordinary results to our sector and the country as a whole.
  • Lead and share knowledge – it is always rewarding to attend an IITP, IIBA, PMI and a myriad of other available events in New Zealand and see IT professionals sharing their lessons and their knowledge to help others in the IT community learn from their experience. These people are leaders. As an industry we have a huge number of case studies and lessons learned that we should be sharing. If you are facing a tough IT problem no doubt somewhere in the broader community there is someone who can answer or help solve that problem or even share their experience of how they solved something similar. If you have some valuable lessons that would add value to help build New Zealand IT skills, be a leader and share your knowledge. It may just be a LinkedIn update, or a blog post or even an industry presentation.

Bring it all together

In a nutshell, IT skills will be increasingly important to the success of New Zealand in a world that is rapidly becoming digitised. It is great to see our Government investing to reversing the previous downward trend of IT graduation rates. As an IT community we also need to play our part by creating an environment and generating the success that will attract smart young people to our industry, by making it a vibrant place to work, by investing in building IT capability, and by leading and sharing our knowledge for the greater good of our community. This is something we can do, this is our responsibility to the future of our industry and country, so let’s get to it.

You may also be interested in our article 12 smart ideas to keep your IT skills relevant.

Based in Wellington, Paul Ramsay is a Founding Director and Principal Consultant for Equinox IT.

Recorded webinar: The IT professional - an unexpected journey

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