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NZ businesses must urgently address IT skills mismatch

New Zealand will not become a hi-tech knowledge economy unless businesses urgently address a mismatch in IT skills between graduates and job vacancies, according to Accenture.

The warning comes after the release of the Digital Skills Aotearoa report, which found the economy is seriously restricted by a digital skills mismatch.

The report found that despite New Zealand producing almost 6,000 new IT graduates each year, most of the new roles in IT have required senior-level experience and were filled by international talent.

Ben Morgan, Accenture New Zealand Managing Director says New Zealand's business community must bear some responsibility for the skills mismatch and make changes to attract graduates, retain and upskill staff.

"The global pandemic has changed how businesses operate. As they digitise more of their operations and offer greater flexibility for employees to work from home, demand for skilled IT professionals will undoubtedly increase," he says.

"However, with borders closed businesses cannot rely on immigration to plug the skills gap. 

"They will need to invest in upskilling the existing workforce to fill those roles and provide good career path opportunities for graduates," Morgan says. 

"New Zealand has a pipeline of thousands of eager and ambitious IT graduates looking to make their mark on the industry. It would be nonsensical to not properly develop specialist IT skills locally."

Morgan says the onus is on business to provide more internships and graduate training to equip the next generation of Kiwi IT specialists with the practical experience they will need.

"A failure to do so risks New Zealand not having the depth of skills and experiences required for the IT challenges the country will face," he says.
 
The report also found that IT professionals have a very high rate of turnover, with almost one in five (19%) changing roles each year. 

Morgan says that such a high rate of employee churn has a harmful effect on businesses and shows that many in the sector cannot see a path forward for their career.

"Every industry should expect some staff turnover, but this high rate shows this is a particularly acute problem for New Zealand's IT industry," he says.

"High levels of staff churn are bad for team culture and businesses bottom lines," Morgan says.

"Aside from the costs of having to advertise, interview and onboard new staff members, businesses also lose valuable institutional knowledge.

"Low rates of staff retention shows that professionals in the IT industry do not feel valued, are not being exposed to new experiences, or do not feel as though they can get to the next step on their career path with their current employer."

Morgan says that education and upskilling should be an important part of company culture.

"IT firms need to make a conscious effort to upskill all members of their workforce to build institutional skills and knowledge," he says. 

"Project teams should involve a mix of skills and experiences so that more junior staff can receive on-the-job mentorship from senior team members.

"Specialists and senior team members should also be supported if they wish to gain skills in other areas or retrain for a new role within IT," Morgan adds.

"Providing a supportive and collaborative environment for your people to upskill and learn on the job is one of the best ways to attract and retain talent."

Increasing the number of graduate intakes, internships and staff training would also reduce the sectors diversity shortcomings that were identified in the report.

"Businesses have been slow to incorporate and upskill Mori and Pasifika professionals into senior positions in the tech industry," says Morgan. 

"These uniquely Aotearoa perspectives have the ability to differentiate our technology industry on the global stage.

"For New Zealand to take its place in the world as a thriving hub of hi-tech innovation and entrepreneurship, businesses need to step up and support the next generation of talented Kiwi IT professionals entering the sector."