Skills shortage puts IT grads in the driver's seat

By Anthony Doesburg

James Corbett found a job with Xero after graduating last year. "It was definitely a good market for a graduate to be looking in," he says. Photo / Sarah Ivey
James Corbett found a job with Xero after graduating last year. "It was definitely a good market for a graduate to be looking in," he says. Photo / Sarah Ivey

When it comes to hiring IT staff, there's at least as much pressure on employers to put their best foot forward as there is on job candidates.

With more than 2000 computing jobs listed on one website alone, it's a candidates' market, says Natasha Hubbard, the head of human resources at accounting software company Xero.

"You have to be realistic about the fact that candidates have options. Xero is fortunate that we have a lot going for us in terms of our culture."

The six-year-old stock exchange darling - its share price has more than trebled in the past 12 months - retains its start-up energy and has a "fun, funky vibe", Hubbard says.

"At this stage we're in a nice, sweet spot of people genuinely wanting to come on board. For us it hasn't come down to wage wars."

However, the wages certainly aren't bad for a fresh graduate. James Corbett landed himself a $50,000 a year programming job at Xero as soon as he finished his three-year computer science degree in the middle of last year.

The 22-year-old had applied for several jobs, but liked what Xero had to offer, and it liked him, so he signed on.

"It was definitely a good market for a graduate to be looking in. I applied for jobs all over the show and had a lot of luck with people getting back to me."

Corbett left thinking about jobs until near the end of his degree, even though employers were already scouting for talent - and promoting their organisations as good places to work - in his second year. By the time he was ready to make his first career move, plenty of opportunities presented themselves.

"There was a lot of employer interest. I didn't have to go searching and found a job quite easily."

At Xero the focus was less on his grades and more on his ability to work in a team.

That appealed to Corbett just as much, as his abilities clearly matched what Xero was after.

In Christchurch, 20-year-old Ben Munro could also pick and choose. The University of Canterbury computer science graduate had a job lined up two months before completing his degree.

"I was quite lucky in that I had a few opportunities offered to me."

Having an A-minus grade average was no doubt an advantage, Munro says. So was experience as a summer intern at IT company Hewlett-Packard.

After a three-hour interview that involved aptitude tests and meeting several of the people he could be working with, he opted for a developer job at Christchurch fleet-tracking software company Telogis on a salary of just over $50,000. The work is as interesting as he'd hoped, and the workplace welcoming.

"They really do make it a fun place rather than just being here for your eight hours a day with your head down."

The popular image of an IT worker might be a young male whose closest relationship is with his computer. But the reality is different, says Xero's Hubbard.

"When I look around Xero we have techie bods, we have a range of ages, we have great diversity, so it's not your traditional nerds all in a room not talking to each other."

First on the list of attributes employers look for is a candidate's team-working ability, says University of Canterbury computer science professor Tim Bell.

Problem-solving, creativity, technical interest, mathematical ability and leadership skills are also sought.

"There is a role for very technical people who can solve hard problems and also a role for those who are much more people-oriented," Bell says.

- NZ Herald

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