As we transition out of a Covid-focused world and prepare for what comes next, New Zealand’s ICT industry is gearing towards growth.
From app development helping track the Covid-19 virus to website engineering keeping businesses in touch and online, ICT knowledge has been crucial to keeping New Zealand working over the last few months. But the growth of the sector didn’t start with Covid.
With the value of software and service exports increasing by more than 300% over the past nine years, New Zealand’s ICT sector has been consistent in demonstrating its increasing value in a world that’s becoming continually more tech-reliant. Experts have said the country has a window of opportunity to become one of the tech leaders in the world, and that a larger, more diverse workforce can help us get there.
Lynda Turner, director of the Wellington ICT Graduate School, believes the tech industry is designed for people who can successfully adapt to change, and that over the last few months the world has seen how change can come from any direction. Her school offers one-year masters programmes in software development, user experience design, business analysis and design technology, all of which were created with input from the industry and designed to support the immediate and ongoing needs of the local employment market.
As someone who’s seen the growth of the local industry first-hand, Turner is a strong believer in the value of practical ICT education. “Technology reaches across all industries, so it’s a really dynamic field to study. It can also be a relatively future-proof career choice if you’re open to change and able to adapt.”
In a 2017 op-ed for Stuff, Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone said it would be impossible to significantly grow the New Zealand economy without a huge expansion in the tech sector. “Every dollar invested in the tech sector creates $3 worth of growth in the New Zealand economy,” she explained, positing that “all the tech sector needs to expand is more brains, more ideas and more capital to bring them to market”.
As tech solutions continue to solve problems from public health to consumer convenience, there’s been pressure on the industry to evolve quickly in order to keep pace as workplaces move online and begin to demand more from their tools.
This is where institutions like the Wellington ICT Graduate School come in. In the 2014 budget, then-finance minister Steven Joyce announced a $28.6m investment in ICT grad schools to give New Zealanders more opportunity to enter the growing sector. He said that increasing the country’s ICT skill base would “help drive innovation in this sector and build a more productive and internationally competitive economy”.
Turner says the tech sector went through a growth period following this investment in education, and now the pandemic has further highlighted the importance of strengthening the ICT industry. “New jobs and roles are being created all the time. There are so many roles associated with this change and it’s really highlighted that this is an industry that is core to – and will be instrumental in recovering – the economy.”
The stark importance of ICT has perhaps never been more obvious than when recent events meant that many local retailers and hospitality businesses had to quickly take their services online. The work of ICT professionals helped many businesses to make the (often significant) transition and it’s these same professionals who will continue to work with these businesses as they work out where they fit in a post-Covid world. The prevalence of ICT in all sectors across New Zealand is one of the main reasons Turner thinks the profession needs more hands.
“Everybody relies on technology in one way or another to stay connected … There is a lot that will come out of the change in circumstances and the new ways everybody is working.”
Turner believes we will see a lot of people changing career directions and moving into ICT, a possibility which dovetails well with the school’s model. Since Wellington ICT Graduate School predominantly runs conversion programmes, its course offering is especially suited to people from non-ICT backgrounds looking to build new skills without having to start from scratch.
In an industry that’s traditionally male-dominated, Turner says her institution is taking steps to help close the gender divide. While a World Economic Forum report placed New Zealand at sixth in the world for gender equality, there have been calls for our ICT sector to do more to support women into an industry that’s currently made up of 74% men.
“There are more and more women taking part in ICT, and in fact, most of our programmes are 50-50 gender parity. More women are seeing that they can have a thriving career in ICT,” says Turner. “Once you start working in the industry, it opens up doors to so many other roles. You are constantly presented with opportunities to extend yourself, to develop and to learn technology. You just have to take those opportunities.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.