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NZ's tech sector in great need of digital apprenticeships

New Zealand’s technology sector is in great need for more digital apprenticeships and internships, according to a new survey.

The Digital Skills Forum survey, focusing on New Zealand's tech leaders, says not enough Kiwis choose lucrative digital tech careers and there is often a mismatch between what the education system provides and what the tech ecosystem needs.

The survey results showed support for internships to help students develop work experience and the skills that employers say are lacking in many graduates.

These skills increase the productivity of graduates and make them more economically useful for employers when they enter the workforce.

Employers surveyed indicated taking on interns is costly and a significant drain on resources.

Consequently, only a small proportion of digital technology students are successful in obtaining an internship prior to trying to enter the workforce.

The survey also found New Zealand must develop a digital skills pipeline that provides immediate skills to meet future needs.

New Zealand's digital skills pipeline must evolve into a system that provides clear pathways through education to employment augmented by high quality immigration.

Ultimately, the Digital Skills Forum proposes the creation of a nationwide digital apprenticeship programme.

The scheme will reportedly benefit employers and workers and provide a clear pathway for those returning to work or looking to change careers and enter digital roles.

NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says, “There are a number of important reasons for building a stronger domestic pipeline for digital skills. It prepares students for the future of work.

"As the tech sector continues to grow and more organisations in other sectors undergo digital transformation, there will be a growing number of jobs created for people with a range of digital skills.

“We also need to capture our Aotearoa culture in code. As we become more reliant on algorithms and automated decision-making tools that augment our interactions at work, it will be increasingly important that our unique New Zealand culture and values are embedded within the code.

"To do this we will need Kiwis with digital skills.”

He says, “Education policy must evolve to enable lifelong learning, empowering people to be self-sustaining and ensuring access to new, rewarding jobs."

According to Muller, in tandem, organisations in public and private sectors must invest in their own learning programmes to upskill their employees.

Global initiatives currently addressing the digital skills gap use an integrated approach leveraging different resources and skills of various stakeholders: funding and infrastructure of government, innovation capability and agility of business, and connection to social causes and purpose of non-profit/social enterprises.

He says, “If we continue to import some skills and upskill those already in the workforce, only a small growth in the numbers of secondary school students leaving school each year would be required to meet the expected growth rates.

“Ultimately, the development of the grass roots of the digital skills pipeline will result in a larger number of New Zealanders taking on the advanced digital skills needed to help the economy grow as its digital technology sector expands and other sectors undergo digital transformation.”

The Digital Skills Forum, run by leading national tech organisations, such as NZTech, was established with government in 2015, to bring together government and the tech industry, to help address growing digital skills shortages.