Key Points:

The number of tertiary graduates coming out of information technology (IT) courses has halved over the past four years and technology businesses are scratching to fill roles.

University of Auckland's professor of computer science and director of the centre for software innovation, John Hosking, said this was threatening the technology sector's ability to increase its volume of development.

"You need the people to do the spadework, to develop the products," he said.

And because IT was "utterly pervasive" in business the whole economic infrastructure was at risk, he said.

Hosking said it seemed the stereotype of the IT nerd was the main force turning young people away from a career in the sector.

Parents often had a strong influence over their children's career selection, and following the dot-com crash there was a perception that IT was not a solid career choice.

Secondary schools had different standards for assessing IT as a subject, and many students turned it down because it did not contribute as many points towards their final grade for the year. "We are losing people there because they think it's a second-rate subject," Hosking said.

Managing director of IBM New Zealand, Katrina Troughton, said the company struggled to find IT graduates with a broad understanding of business and communication as well as technology skills. IBM often recruited from overseas or had to invest in training the candidates. It also worked with tertiary institutions to promote the opportunities available in IT including creative, communications, sales and business roles.

"It's not just about sitting in front of a computer all day," Troughton said.

Steve O'Rourke, of small Wellington-based creative IT company Ocular, said he searched for the right candidate for almost four years before securing someone from Brazil.

The main characteristic he looked for in an employee was the ability to think but this was where there was a shortage of candidates. He said he was happy to consider people who did not know anything about software and train them up.

O'Rourke said the opportunities offered by the IT industry needed to be better marketed in schools. This year he spoke to a number of secondary school students and found that even though they said they did not want to have a job in IT, they were looking at careers that had a heavy emphasis on IT such as architecture.

John Piper, programme leader of the digital design programme at Auckland University of Technology's Art and Design school, said students in the final two years of secondary school needed to be advised on what they needed to study to have a chance to enrol in such a degree.

Students often did not realise subjects with a heavy emphasis on research, writing, grammar and communication were important for a successful career in the IT industry.