NZ has a critical tech sector skill shortage – so what’s being done about it?
“Shortages are real, we are currently trying to fill quite a few positions, we have ads running continuously to see if we can pull people in,” Jade Chief Innovation Officer, John Ascroft, confirms.
During 35 years at Jade, Ashcroft has seen constant change in the sector, including the shift in the priorities of new graduates. The sector must meet these priorities or suffer the consequences.
According to the Absolute IT Employers Report 2018, which surveyed 400 IT employers nationally, 79% of employers are planning to recruit in 2018 and 28% found it more difficult to attract tech talent than one year ago. Here’s another sobering fact - 14,000 new jobs were created last year and only 5,090 IT students graduated in 2015.
There's good pay in IT for graduates
Pay doesn’t seem to be the problem; the national median base salary for digital professionals has gone up by 13% over the last six months, from $71,000 as reported in August 2017 to $80,000 in February 2018 – Christchurch had the highest at $87,500*.
So what exactly do IT graduates want?
“It’s never just about pay and with younger people it is not as important a factor. Pay is a scorecard and one way to show appreciation, however the new graduates seem to want to feel the job they are doing has some meaning, that they are contributing to a good purpose,” Ascroft says.
The report confirms this: “IT professionals between the ages of 18 and 24 rated an employer’s ability to provide staff development and training as more important than their base salary.”
Jessica Pelayo, a 23 year old Software QA Tester for broadcast software company RCS NZ, agrees. “My degree’s specialisation at Ara [Institute of Canterbury] was Software Development… however, the IT Industry has a variety of fields to choose from and specialise in, therefore as a new graduate training opportunities and learning was more important for me. I want to learn as much as I can, to find my place in the IT Industry.”
The most important consideration for Jeremy Cook, a 33 year old a virtual reality developer and mobile app tester at LWA Solutions, was “a role where I could do something interesting and cutting edge - something creative and challenging”. Flexible working hours and great bosses were also key.
Company culture and personal development are priorities.
Ascroft says company culture is a big part of the meaning and belonging that younger professionals crave. Jade’s vacancies webpage emphasises the focus on culture through values such as ownership, collaboration and fun. It seems to be working.
“Our turnover is relatively low and if you exclude the ones that go off on OE, it’s very low.”
For 27 year old Devon Agnew, who works for an international company as a Service Desk Analyst in Melbourne, culture reigns supreme. “…positive work culture is probably the first thing I look for - how friendly the manager and colleagues are, and how well we can work together.”
However, learning comes a close second. “Next would be training/progression opportunities offered by the company - I would like to continue moving forward and growing my career as much as possible. Flexible work hours are a big part of my decision - I believe in the idea of working to live and enjoy life, rather than living to work and being too focused on money. And last but not least, the money! I need to be able to pay the bills, and have enough money to enjoy my life, and of course I would like to be rewarded fairly for the work I do, but I would always take a job that I enjoy for less money, rather than a job I didn't enjoy for more money.”
The tech sector offers great career choices, well beyond the traditional stereotypes, with variety across industries, challenges and a global outlook (60% of Jade’s profits now come from offshore).
“Increasingly, my view is that business is about people, and technology is an enabler,” Ascroft says. “Understanding what people want requires different skills to writing code, so we have roles like User Experience, which is very creative where people are out talking to customers and trying to understand their needs.”
Tech graduates are happy with their career choice.
“You get to help bring abstract ideas to life. So many people have great ideas, they just need people with the skills to make them a reality,” Cook says.
“It is a fantastic career choice! There are so many paths to it, even if you're not such a geek or technically minded. There's so many new technologies emerging every single day, and with that comes plenty of jobs too,” Agnew says.
“I love that it is both challenging and satisfactory,” Pelayo says. “I have to learn fast and have a good understanding of how a product should and shouldn’t behave, in a short period of time. It is also not easy to look at a product in different ways, from different perspectives, and to understand what a customer’s wants and needs from our products.”
Pelayo, who is Filipino, is committed to gender and cultural diversity in the sector, which may also drive further recruitment. She returns to campus to support the IT Tech Girls group meetings.
Ascroft is also a regular visitor to Ara, contributing to advisory panels so that degree programme content closely reflects industry needs. “So we have a long standing relationship and we really value that. In our experience, Ara graduates are more work ready and have better soft skills. It’s a cooperative thing, we contribute to ICT advisory panels at Ara and we get graduates with the skills we need.”
The shortage is not just in NZ: Europe expects to be short of 500,000 digital specialists by 2020. The Obama White House predicted that by 2020 there would be 1.4 million computer science-related jobs available, and only about 400,000 computer science grads with the skills to apply for these jobs.
Find out about studying computing at Ara Institute of Canterbury: http://www.ara.ac.nz/study-options/our-study-interest-areas/computing