Why aren’t New Zealand businesses being encouraged to take on new graduates?

GraduatesBy NZ Rise Co-chair Victoria MacLennan. This blog post first appeared on the NZ Rise site.

Last week Don and I received the email below:

For Attention Victoria Maclennan & Don Christie,

I am writing to you as Co-Chairs of NZRise to seek your feedback about a problem that is occurring not only for me, but for many of my friends. I, along with many others I know, am a recent IT graduate looking for my first role in the IT sector. What I have found for the past four months is that every job I apply for I have been turned down, not because I don’t have the right behaviour, attitude or personal qualities, but because they are all looking for someone with at least two years experience. Yet we are continuously hearing from both government and the media that there is a huge shortage of IT professionals in New Zealand.

My question is: Why aren’t New Zealand businesses being encouraged to take on new graduates? They don’t appear to be willing to put any time or effort into developing the next wave of talent. Today I counted 45 rejection emails for graduate and junior development roles (not counting the ones who haven’t replied), every single one for the reason of “needs more experience”. I have received feedback from many of these places that my attitude, communication, willingness to learn and other various interpersonal skills are all there. I am 23 and have previous work experience in the civil engineering industry as a technician, so while I am looking for an entry level IT job I have other transferrable experience. I have good references and these still don’t appear to be enough.

I am very interested in your thoughts on why there is such a mismatch between government and media reporting and the reality for myself and many of my friends and study colleges.

I look forward to your reply,

Yours sincerely,

While the email stands alone it is worthy commenting on the challenge Cameron is facing. I have since corresponded with him and understand he is an Enspiral DevAcademy graduate (a programme many NZRise members support, and often employ graduates from). He is well respected within that community who are disappointed and surprised Cameron finds himself in this position.

Is there a shortage of skilled Digital and Technology workers in our local market or not?

It would appear there is a skilled workforce shortage in the Digital and Technology space, media coverage, creation of ICT Graduate schools as an additional study pathway, language used by politicians and business leaders all indicate we have a shortage. The Digital Technology skill shortage is just one of the areas New Zealand is looking to address, this article on Stuff (05/03/2017) promoting a new recruitment app quotes a recent Employers and Manufacturers Association (Ema) survey:

The Ema 2016 survey of employers said 53 per cent of employers found it difficult to recruit, up 9 per cent from last year. The survey said their was an 11 per cent increase in recruiting overseas, a process that 47 per cent of employers found difficult.

The Wellington economic development agency WREDA certainly agree having launched the now famously oversubscribed Looksee campaign to attract candidates from overseas to Wellington. In researching the motives for this campaign I couldn’t find an actual number of vacancies in Wellington to be filled but all of the press indicates WREDA are funding candidate travel for 100 roles. NZRise understand Xero is one of the primary drivers behind this campaign and are looking to employ 50+ senior Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence candidates alone.

Immigration New Zealand includes Software Development roles within the Long Term Skills Shortage list indicating the perceived shortage is supported by evidence and immigration policy.

Why aren’t New Zealand businesses being encouraged to take on new graduates?

Digital Technology is one of the key enablers in lifting productivity of all industries, so roles leveraging the skills Cameron has gained sit within organisations across all sectors. As education and future-of-work commentators are predicting we need to be embracing and adopting technology into our businesses, embracing automation and disrupting ourselves to ensure New Zealand remains competitive in a global economy. These two Francis Valentine quotes underscore the landscape ahead:

Nearly half of the jobs in New Zealand are at high risk of automation.

Marriott took 88 years to get to 697,000 rooms – Airbnb took four years to get to 650,000 rooms.

Unlike other industries Digital and Technology does not have an industry wide format for bringing new graduates into the workforce, there are no apprenticeship style programmes providing employers with a structured approach to adopting new tertiary graduates into their workforce. Equally there are limited options for school leavers looking to take an alternative pathway into the Digital and Technology space.

Small steps – Digital Skills Forum

Business owners, especially in the SME (small, medium enterprise) space, struggle to create headroom and allocate time to the important task of bringing graduates into our workplaces. As Cameron suggests there is a need for a coordinated approach to solving this challenge, growing and developing our own talent in converse with importing skilled workers. A range of initiatives have attempted to repatriate experienced kiwi’s back from foreign lands to fill the more senior roles with mixed results.

With my NZRise hat on I chair the Digitial Skills Forum, a cross industry, cross agency working group focused on sizing and gaining insight into these challenges via an Evidence and Data workstream, providing input into our Education systems to assist with preparing for a Digital and Technology led future, using Industry led challenges as input towards Immigration attraction activities and most relevant to Cameron’s email, focusing on vocational development and Professional Pathways.

The Professional Pathways workstream has been formulated specifically to address the following key issue: Identifying entry and pathways to the digital sector

  • The specific scope of this work is establishing and mapping career pathways both into and within the sector;
  • Exploring and enabling alternative delivery models for ongoing career and professional development;
  • Encouraging the use of a common skills framework (such as the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA)) to assist in defining skills requirements and developing programmes that can help to develop and deliver these requirements.

While the Digital Skills Forum is making progress in co-ordinating activities across industry and government agencies it doesn’t have the resources to accelerate the activity at a pace New Zealand deserves – we are all volunteering our time on the industry side, and public service employees have day jobs that take their focus.

Where to for Cameron?

We should consider Cameron’s email a symptom of the larger issues in play here – investment in a future focused education system, capability development within New Zealand businesses to support creation of roles (including entry level) in the Digital and Technology space, focus as an economy on the future-of-work and developing programmes and systems to prepare our people and businesses.

A co-ordinated approach is needed here to secure a strong economic future for New Zealand.

As I write this I do sympathise with Cameron and hope this post will prompt an employer looking for a graduate developer to contact me for his details. Equally I would like to offer advice and guidance to any employer who is able to create an entry level role but does not have systems, processes or experience to do so.

Bigger picture wise I do hope Cameron turning our attention towards this challenge will create dialogue and action to focus us all on the gains Digital Technology skills and the Digital Technology industry can bring to the New Zealand economy. More minds, hands and momentum is needed.

Victoria MacLennan, Co-Chair NZRise
email: chair@nzrise.org.nz

This post is the opinion of the author.

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