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Grow Your Own Talent

Regardless of the field in which a business operates, there are some challenges common across all disciplines; few more keenly felt than recruitment and retention. Depending on the sources to which you refer for comparison, the ICT sector continues to see a clear upward trend in vacancies and while this translates to strong growth within the industry, a different problem is being increasingly encountered.

Recruiting graduates and skilled ICT workers has become a real problem for the New Zealand ICT sector. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment released the Information and Communications Technology Report in July that identified a number of key themes, including

  • strong employment growth, with wages and salaries twice the New Zealand average
  • rapidly increasing exports of computer and information services
  • more demand for ICT skills across the economy

This last point is a bigger issue for technology companies than would be suggested by the wording of that finding. Many companies are looking offshore to meet the immediate skills gap – particularly for senior and specialist roles. This doesn’t mean that our schools, polytechnics and universities are failing to anticipate the demands of a changing economy, but it does present challenges for the ICT sector at the grass-roots education level of secondary schools. Exposing the workforce of tomorrow to the benefits and opportunities of today requires active participation in – and collaboration with the education sector in order to fully understand how children are responding to a new ICT curriculum and how their attitudes towards ICT are shaped.

Intergen has a strong involvement in the promotion of software development and infrastructure as career options and has a number of staff actively involved in various ambassador roles such as ICT-Connect in schools and the Futureintech programme. As a Corporate and Educational Partner of the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP), staff are encouraged to get involved in supporting schools both through speaking at careers events and during regular classes.

Intergen has had a strong track record of hiring graduates across its offices in New Zealand, and in late January we welcomed this year’s 12 new graduates on board (you can read about their bootcamp experience here). As such, it has a direct interest in the uptake of ICT in schools. Several Intergenites are involved in the Futureintech ambassador programme, which not only provides an avenue for staff to contribute their knowledge and experience to the classroom, but offers those same people some insight into the secondary schools curriculum and the sorts of challenges faced by educators.

Being involved in Futureintech isn’t an onerous commitment: following an initial induction and training seminar, requests for a speaking engagement are typically only around four to five per year and these are generally one hour at most. The one thing people find most difficult is public speaking. Ambassador programmes such as this are great for developing that skill, but aren’t suited to everyone. Kids will relate to and engage with someone who’s both enthusiastic and articulate. If the speaker can’t convey their story confidently, the attention will quickly be lost and an opportunity wasted.

Speakers are typically asked to discuss aspects of their professional career or day-to-day activities and relate these back to achievement standards within the Digital Technologies secondary curriculum. Having to frame talks in this context also enables the speaker to gain an important insight into the skill sets being assessed in New Zealand schools. Things have come a long way for many of those currently in the industry who remember having to produce a PowerPoint presentation or Word document as a core part of their school assessment. The ICT curriculum adopted in 2010 was authored by a panel of experts including representatives from the IITP, teachers, academics and industry. It addresses much more specific and relevant skills including (but not limited to) digital media, computer science, data and information management, networks and infrastructure. It’s no longer the easy option it may once have been considered and students are being given the option to explore – and be assessed on – a much broader set of ICT skills.

From a personal point of view, the experience of visiting and speaking at schools around Otago has illustrated a number of points:

  • There are some damn fine educators doing a fantastic job
  • Parents sometimes don’t understand why their child might want to pursue ICT and are therefore less likely to support it
  • There are a lot of girls taking ICT in schools, so do we see this being reflected at a tertiary education level and through into the workforce? If not, why not?

Education and technology are constantly becoming more interdependent, with smaller centres in New Zealand reaping real benefits from harnessing the economies of scale offered. Businesses stand to gain a great deal not only in terms of exposure through in-school programmes such as the IITP’s ICT-Connect programme but as an industry.

Awareness of opportunities in the ICT sector means that recruitment – and therefore growth – is a less drawn-out, more cost-effective process than it currently is for many businesses. It also means businesses gain a small window into the sorts of challenges or questions being encountered at those very early stages.

A willingness to contribute in more of an advisory or mentoring capacity is becoming more central to workers and businesses within the ICT industry and starting at the secondary school level with people that relate to students is the best way to ensure interest and greater awareness is fostered early in people’s careers.

Posted by: Phil Wheeler, Senior Developer, Application Support | 03 February 2014

Tags: Training, Grads, Graduate Developer

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