Sophie Ryan is online editor for the Business Herald

Frances Valintine: New Zealand risks missing digital wave

Education futurist Frances Valintine fears New Zealand risks being left behind in the global digital revolution.

Valintine wants to create a technologically capable New Zealand, where we have a workforce skilled in the areas of massive growth around the world, like cybersecurity, data science and robotics.

"My fear is we will become a wonderful tourist destination for the rich and famous and we will work in hospitality," she says. "My wish is we will become a global player in innovation and creativity and we will contribute significantly to our GDP in things that are intangible."

Her dream of a New Zealand driven by intangible products and an engine lead by creative people is getting closer to reality, she says, citing Rocket Lab and Mark Sagar's Baby X as examples of companies that could be anywhere in the world, but choose to stay at home.

"I think there are more and more people who believe we can get there."

Valintine last week opened her third venture in education and technology, Tech Future Labs, a centre where professionals can equip themselves with technical and business transformation skills.

How the world views New Zealand means "everything" to Valintine.

"It really underpins everything I do," she says.

The tremendous sense of social responsibility that Valintine feels was manifested in her childhood growing up on a farm in Taranaki.

"Everybody had to support each other, and I think you get that a lot more in a rural environment."

After school she left Taranaki to travel to London as a photographer, but found herself working in fashion production in Turkey in the early 1990s during the Gulf War.

She was eventually advised by US forces to leave that country and landed a role working for the New Zealand government recruiting international students to study in New Zealand.

It was her first taste of the education sector and it got her hooked.

"Seeing [the international students] here was the a-ha moment when I thought education can completely fulfill someone's dream."

Valintine has an affinity for the younger generation, and has seen the way technology has shaped the life of her two children and two step-children.

The generation gap is pronounced in the business sector, Valintine says.

"It's not about making money for them, it's about actually doing the right thing," she says.

"There's nothing wrong with making money, but first and foremost you have an environment you've got to look after, you've got communities you have to support.

I still have conversations with very large New Zealand companies who say their sector is not going to change. I sit there and I have no words.

"[Business] has to be scalable and meaningful."

That passion for young people, technology and design came together when on Valintine's return to New Zealand she established the Media Design School.

The school trained people with the new design and animation technology of the time. She was at the helm for 14 years and sold the school to American education Laureate International Universities.

It was only later that Valintine realised she had combined all the things she loved in one place: "Empowering people, design, realising technology could enable someone to kickstart their career."

Her commitment to social causes took Valintine to her next project - The Mind Lab.

It initially began in an empty shop in Newmarket, but within a matter of months she had partnered with Unitec and the education systems were rolled out around the country. Every year around 40,000 students take part in the tech workshops.

"My view was it was a really nice social project ... it wasn't until literally I opened the door I realised the demand. I had never seen just how hungry schools were to see what else they could achieve with technology."

You can't rely on a pipeline when the world is looking at the same pipeline.

Thanks to The Mind Lab's success Valintine spends a lot of time talking to businesses in New Zealand and overseas.

It's opened her eyes to the "tidal wave" of change that is coming in the form of automation and artificial intelligence.

However, New Zealand business is ignoring the massive change ahead, which will see more transform in the next three years than in the past 50 years, she says.

"We're moving backwards really fast. I still have conversations with very large New Zealand companies who say their sector is not going to change. I sit there and I have no words."

This week the World Economic Forum reported 1 million vacancies for cybersecurity positions around the world and Microsoft announced it's first internationally offered qualification in data science.

New Zealand companies need to be fostering these types of skills in their own workforce, Valintine says.

"In every organisation I have a massive number of international staff. So while we're bringing people in right now, what if we can't find anyone that wants to do this stuff, because we can't pay them on the rate everyone else pays them on?" she says.

"You can't rely on a pipeline when the world is looking at the same pipeline."

Valintine's biggest wish is for a microphone that allows her to speak to every person in the country at the same time, so she could tell them about the transformation that was coming and how it could work for them.

Facts and figures:

• 1998-2013 CEO of Media Design School.

• Sold the school in 2011 to Laureates International University.

• 2013 founded The Mind Lab, which partnered with Unitec in 2014.

• 2016 founded Tech Futures Lab in partnership with Unitec.

• Awarded Sir Peter Blake Leader Award in 2016.

• Awarded Idealog top 10 most innovative people 2014.

• Westpac Woman of Influence award 2015.

• Board member at Callaghan Innovation, Education New Zealand and others.

- NZ Herald

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