Crunch time: Making diversity a tech industry priority | New Zealand business magazine
Grant McIvor explains why New Zealand’s tech sector has the potential to be transformational, but is hampered by a lack of experienced people.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s technology sector has the potential to be transformational. But while the industry is booming – with annual revenues of nearly $14 billion – it is also constrained, not by a lack of ambition, but by one of the most important factors in its growth. : lack of staff.
Throughout my tech career, the skills shortage has been a constant, yet somewhat manageable reality. Exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic and the resulting border closures, coupled with the rapid growth of the sector, this challenge has now increased to undermine the ambitions of many local businesses, large and small.
Prior to Covid-19, typically more than 50% of new jobs created at local tech companies were filled by foreign talent and around 4,000-5,000 tech professionals immigrated here each year.
Fast forward to 2021, and information from an NZTech survey last July revealed that around 180 companies were looking for more than 2,000 experienced people to fill critical digital roles at that time. Given that this was almost a year ago, we can only assume that the gap between the number of vacancies in the industry and the number of qualified talent available has continued to grow.
The government’s recent announcement on the full reopening of borders in July – and the prioritization of visa processing for skilled workers in sectors such as technology – will have been a relief to many in the industry, but it is important to remember that we don’t have to look far for a long-term solution to our talent shortage.
While announced pre-budget spending to support the creation of short courses to develop skills and expertise in technology development is also a boost, industry is not reaching or fully committing with every part of our population as well as we could be – and this untapped potential could make all the difference to the adoption and success of such investments.
Overall, over 111,000 people are employed in our technology sector, but only a small proportion of the positions currently held are held by women, or Maori and Pacific people and when you look at the statistics it is clear that more collective action at all levels is needed to drive positive change around this.
“A study by the Higher Education Commission found that boys were Nine times more likely than girls to aspire to work in technology/computing.”
The Digital Skills Aotearoa (2021) report highlights that, in the workforce, women make up only 27% of people in digital technology positions. The same report also revealed that Maori representation in tech employment is 4%, while Pacific people make up just 2.8% of those employed in the sector.
Additionally, a study by the Higher Education Commission found that boys were Nine times more likely than girls to aspire to a tech/computing career, while further research by the Department of Education found that only 28% of the 13,000+ enrolled 13th graders in digital technology courses in 2021 were women.
There are many possible factors at play behind these low numbers, however, much of the problem is systemic and begins with the pathways young people are exposed to and nurtured during their schooling, as well as family influences – such as interactions with parents, family friends or role models often shed light on broader career paths and available opportunities by sharing their own experiences.
In our recent discussion on this topic for Tweek 2022, one of our panelists pointed out that working in tech is stereotypically viewed as a “man’s career” and that we haven’t done enough to change that perception. Looking at the statistics and hearing some examples of such stereotypes, it is clear that we have work to do to improve the attractiveness and awareness of opportunities in the sector.
There are a range of inspiring organizations with a mission to help improve the knowledge, interest and career paths of these demographics in tech – from our partners like SheSharp and TupuToa, to TechWomen and Shadow Tech for to name a few. However, much more needs to be done to make participation in the technology sector not just an option, but an aspiration, for all New Zealanders and the private sector must play its part.
We need to ensure that pathways are offered to future talent from all walks of life – and that talent is recognized in the same way. We need to create a supportive work environment that meets their needs at every stage of their career. One of the main ideas that also came out of the discussion with our panel was the need for role models that people new to their job can both identify with and be inspired by.
I know that in my role working with the Future Makers Academy graduate program and likewise working closely to support our MYOB DevelopHer proteges, I have seen firsthand how the right mentor or role model can really take this appetite for learning and also self-confidence, on another level.
Combined, a focus on these actions could not only help develop the pool of local talent entering the sector, but also go a long way towards improving gender and cultural balances in the workplace, which in turn s has been shown to lead to improvements in innovation and diversity of thought for organizations.
As I said at the start, the tech sector has the opportunity to be transformational – not just in economic terms or even in creating well-paying jobs, but in its approach to diversity of representation in the workplace. work and bringing together the many perspectives that are unique to our country to help solve problems and innovate even more.
I sincerely believe that there are brilliant minds out there who could add real value to the industry and our path forward – and I for one look forward to seeing them seize the opportunity and flourish.
Grant McIvor is Chief Technology Officer (Enterprise) at MYOB. An established leader in product technology, Grant is passionate about developing all future talent and enhancing career paths in technology. Grant plays an active role in MYOB’s Future Makers Academy graduate program and the company’s DevelopHer program, which aims to help more women develop their skills and pursue careers in software development. He is responsible for establishing MYOB’s partnership with SheSharp and in 2021 also mentored a number of Maori start-ups through his involvement with the Kōkiri Accelerator.