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Is New Zealand’s ICT Skills Shortage List Out of Date?

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A little while back, the Digital Skills forum put together data around the New Zealand tech sector. Within that data was some interesting information around the New Zealand employment market. This information showed that New Zealand has an estimated 120,000 tech professionals in the country, making up roughly 5% of New Zealand’s total workforce. The Digital Skills forum report went further to speak of the graduate numbers and new immigrants arriving in New Zealand. The numbers indicated that each year New Zealand produces over 5,000 tech graduates across the country, and we entice over 5,000 new immigrants to the country each year.

This is great news for New Zealand, we have an attractive market for skilled and experienced immigrants and we are also developing high calibre and well-trained individuals to enter the workforce.

The Digital Skills forum research then went further to describe the current skills gap in New Zealand. What they found was that New Zealand produced roughly 14,000 tech jobs in 2016. But the problem was that we only had 5,000 new immigrants arrive in New Zealand that year, and we developed 5,000 new graduates in that year too. This leaves a gap of 4,000 unfilled roles, a significant gap for a small market and even more so in a growing market.

But under the surface I think this issue might be more severe than first glance. Under the previous government, IT visas made up roughly 7% of the 70,000 new immigrants into the country. And over the last 10 years, the number of tech visas granted has almost doubled - great news for our growing sector. With the arrival of a new Government, there has been a sharp change away from a friendly immigration policy. 70,000 new immigrants will now be closer to 25,000 and if tech visas granted remain as it has been in the past, they will now make up closer to 20% of an estimated 25,000 visa's granted. This means a much brighter spotlight on visa applications and arrivals in the IT sector. One to watch.

Behind the scenes there is also another area to consider, that is our country’s short and long-term skills shortage lists. Each year, New Zealand immigration revisits the shortage lists in our technology sector and updates the list. This is great news for adapting to changing employment markets, and changing technology skill sets.

New Zealand is currently undergoing a significant period of tech change and skill set change. Agile, Digital, DevOps, and Cloud Transformations to name a few are all impacting the skill sets New Zealand businesses now need. This has been hugely impactful on the skill sets we now require in New Zealand. When these transformations occur, it is important that we develop our people in these skills. This occurs through retaining current employees along with the process of developing new grads’ skills (a typically longer process). Currently, New Zealand lacks the highly skilled candidates to contribute to these significant transformations. Waiting for the grads to fill this gap will take too long.

So, we are very much reliant on the right skills coming in from overseas, via technology visas. But looking at the skill shortage list we find these lists severally out of date. Below is a screenshot of the Immediate Skills Shortage list for ICT. 

Clearly no sign of the highly skilled IT professionals we need more of. In fact, none of the urgent roles we are looking to fill are mentioned on this list! The long-term Skills Shortage list is much more promising and has plenty of depth to it:

But for those who already work in the industry, it is clear this list is dated and not reflective of the latest skills required in the market. The job titles are old and the skill sets are heavily geared to days gone by. No mention of Agile, Cloud, DevOps, Business Intelligence or Data Science. No mention of new skill sets like Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Agile Coaches, Cloud Specialists.

It’s great that we are encouraging IT people into the country and the New Zealand government over the years has continuously increased the numbers of IT visas. But it’s time for an update and a reflection on what more can be done. We need more IT professionals but we also need the right people coming through the door. Modern skill sets that can help our companies with in-demand skill sets. We need a Skills Shortage list that reflects the current market, does a better job of defining role types (do we need more Manual Testers or Automation Testers in the country?), and we need to make sure that we are using the correct job titles to describe our roles.

For top quality IT professionals who are looking at New Zealand as a possible destination to move to, we need them to see the best we have to offer. We need to show them a modern tech economy that is welcoming to great overseas talent. When we have a Skills Shortage List that’s out of date, and an unfriendly immigration policy, it can send a message to the rest of the world that we are out of touch.

New Zealand is home to some fantastic tech companies and we have world class IT professionals that help drive these businesses. Our sector has been a significant contributor to the country’s success and will continue to be. There’s a great opportunity to refresh our tech brand as a country and help fill those jobs that are crying out for great people - the opportunity is there to be had.