Crunch time: Making diversity a tech sector priority
Grant McIvor explains why New Zealand’s tech sector has the potential to be transformational, but is being hindered by a lack of experienced people. The tech sector in Aotearoa New Zealand has the potential to be transformational. But while the industry is booming – with annual earnings of nearly $14 billion – it is also being […]
Grant McIvor explains why New Zealand’s tech sector has the potential to be transformational, but is being hindered by a lack of experienced people.
The tech sector in Aotearoa New Zealand has the potential to be transformational. But while the industry is booming – with annual earnings of nearly $14 billion – it is also being constrained, not by a lack of ambition, but by one of the most important factors in its growth: a lack of people.
Throughout my career in technology, the skills shortage has been a constant, but somewhat manageable, reality. Exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic and the resulting closed borders, coupled with rapid growth in the sector, this challenge has now grown to undermine the ambitions of many local businesses, large and small.
Before Covid-19, typically more than 50 percent of the new roles created in local tech businesses were filled through talent from overseas and roughly 4,000-5,000 tech professionals were immigrating here every year.
Fast forward to 2021, and insights from an NZTech survey last July revealed that there were around 180 firms looking for more than 2,000 experienced people to fill critical digital roles at that time. Given that was almost a year ago, we can only assume that the gap between the number of vacant roles in the sector and the amount of skilled talent available has continued to grow.
The Government’s recent announcement on fully re-opening the borders in July – and likewise prioritising visa processing for skilled workers in sectors including technology – will have come as a relief to many in the industry, but it’s important to remember we don’t have to look far for a long-term solution to our talent gap.
While the pre-Budget spending announced to support the creation of short courses to grow skills and expertise in technology development is also a boost, the industry isn’t fully reaching or engaging with every part of our population as well as we could be – and that untapped potential could make all the difference to the uptake and success of such investment.
Overall, more than 111,000 people are employed in our tech sector, however only a small proportion of the roles currently filled are held by women, or Māori and Pacific peoples and when you look at the statistics, it’s clear that more collective action at all levels is needed to drive a positive change around this.
“A study from the Tertiary Education Commission found boys were nine times more likely than girls to aspire to hold a tech-based/IT role.”
The Digital Skills Aotearoa Report (2021) highlights that, in the workforce, women account for just 27 percent of those working in digital technology roles. The same report also revealed that Māori representation in tech employment is four percent, while Pacific peoples account for just 2.8 percent of those employed in the sector.
What’s more, a study from the Tertiary Education Commission found boys were nine times more likely than girls to aspire to hold a tech-based/IT role, while further research from Ministry of Education highlighted only 28 percent of the 13,000+ Year 13 students enrolled in digital tech courses in 2021 were female.
There are many possible factors at play behind these low numbers, however, a big part of the issue is systemic and starts with the pathways young people are exposed to and encouraged around during their time in education, as well as through family influences – as interactions with relatives, family friends or role models often shine a light on wider career pathways and opportunities available by sharing their own experiences.
In our recent discussion on this topic for Techweek 2022, one of our panelists pointed out that working in tech is stereotypically considered a ‘man’s career’ and that we haven’t done enough to change this perception. Looking at the stats and hearing some examples of such stereotyping playing out, it’s clear we’ve got work to do to improve the appeal and knowledge of opportunities in the sector.
There are a range of inspirational organisations on a mission to help improve the knowledge, interest and career pathways for these demographics in technology – from partners of ours like SheSharp and TupuToa, to TechWomen and Shadow Tech to name a few. However, there is a lot more to be done in order to make participation in the tech sector not only an option, but an aspiration, for all New Zealanders and private sector has to play its part.
We need to ensure pathways are offered to upcoming talent from all backgrounds – and that talent is recognised, equally. We need to create a supportive working environment that meets their needs at every stage of their career. One of the key insights to also come out of the discussion with our panel, was the need for role models that individuals new to their job role, can both relate to and feel inspired by.
I know in my role working with the Future Makers Academy graduate programme and likewise working closely to support our MYOB DevelopHer protégés, I’ve seen first-hand how the right mentor or role model can really take that appetite for learning and also self-confidence, to another level.
Combined, an emphasis on these actions could not only help grow the local talent pipeline coming into the sector, but also go a long way to improving gender and cultural balances in the workplace which in turn are proven to lead to improvements in innovation and diversity of thought for organisations.
As I said at the beginning, the tech sector has an opportunity to be transformational – not simply in terms of economics or even in creating well-paid jobs, but in its approach to diversity of representation in the workplace and in bringing together the many viewpoints that are unique to our country to help solve problems and innovate even more.
I truly believe there are some brilliant minds out there who could add real value to the industry and our path moving forward – and I for one can’t wait to see them take the chance and flourish.
Grant McIvor is Head of Technology (Enterprise) at MYOB. An established product technology leader, Grant is passionate about nurturing all upcoming talent and improving career pathways in technology. Grant plays an active role in MYOB’s Future Makers Academy graduate programme, and the business’s DevelopHer programme which aims to help more women grow skills and a career in software development. He is responsible for establishing MYOB’s partnership with SheSharp, and in 2021, was also a mentor to a number of Māori start-ups as part of his involvement with the Kōkiri accelerator.