A tech school to satisfy industry demand for software developers is the latest start-up to emerge from Northland.

Co-founded by Ruth Green-Cole and George Norris, the Developers Institute aims to deliver NZQA-approved qualifications and provide an apprenticeship model for software developers which enables graduates to progress into employment with industry partners to build software solutions for enterprise clients.

The school is expected to be a gamechanger in a part of the country where tourism, farming and forestry are the main exports, the founders say.

In the 2018 TIN 200 report released last month, New Zealand's 200 largest technology companies' total revenue increased by 11 per cent to $11.1 billion while their revenue from exports jumped 12.4 per cent to $7.9b.

Advertisement
New Zealand needs to educate or import thousands of technology workers each year if it is to close a growing skills gap in the industry. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand needs to educate or import thousands of technology workers each year if it is to close a growing skills gap in the industry. Photo / Getty Images

That placed tech third in export stakes behind dairy ($14b) and tourism ($10.8b) and well ahead of staples such as meat ($6.6b) and forestry ($4.7b) in NZ's total exports of $53.7b last year, according to Stats NZ figures.

And this means there is also an immense demand for experienced technical talent.

According to the December 2017 report by the Digital Skills Forum, New Zealand needs to educate or import thousands of technology workers each year if it is to close a growing skills gap in the industry.

The Digital Skills forum study was the most comprehensive report on tech skills in a generation and sounded a warning bell for the ICT sector which employed 120,350 at the end of last year, with the biggest shortages being for software developers, the report said.

A 2017 MBIE report on NZ's IT tech sector said wages in computer system design firms ($99,744 per annum) are consistently about double the NZ average ($52,950). Photo / Getty Images
A 2017 MBIE report on NZ's IT tech sector said wages in computer system design firms ($99,744 per annum) are consistently about double the NZ average ($52,950). Photo / Getty Images

Since late 2016, the Developers Institute has been carefully crafting its industry-driven curriculum, working towards an approvals process which the co-founders hope will allow the school to start in Whangarei by mid-2019.

The Developers Institute's founders both have extensive backgrounds in management and leadership at academic and software development education institutions in Whangārei, Wellington and Auckland.

The other key team member is Emma Middlemiss, who has a decade's worth of experience as a senior producer managing software development studios in London and Australia, including producing animation, visual effects and motion graphics for games such as Call of Duty at Spov.

Courses will be taught by industry professionals and cover areas of the highest employment demand including web, software, mobile software development, UX and UI design and product management.

Green-Cole said the curriculum is agile and can move with industry requirements – say, for example, if demand for blockchain and artificial intelligence expertise rose.

A 2017 MBIE report on NZ's IT tech sector says wages in computer system design firms ($99,744 per annum) are consistently about double the New Zealand average ($52,950). The industry is crying out for Kiwi-bred developers to minimise the 50 per cent overseas recruitment rate.

Demand for skilled and experienced developers is high, Norris said.

"Engineering talent is one of the most valuable assets in the business world right now.

"Currently, the sector is creating 14,000 new jobs, but on average only 5000 graduates entered the industry. To fill the gap, a further 5000 internationals immigrated to New Zealand to support the booming sector. But that still leaves the industry 4000 people short, every year, with the biggest shortages of technical talent as software developers.

"We believe our job is only done once graduates secure employment. We are working on a partnership that would see our best graduates earning 55-65K a year straight after completing their training".

Developers Institute facilities will be based on real-world software development studios. Class sizes will be limited with only 50 new students per year and students will typically study for 18 months before moving on to employment.

Even though there is high demand for developers globally, the co-founders plan to keep student intakes small to ensure the apprenticeship model, hands-on teaching and mentoring is successful.

Students would need to meet the standard NZQA entry requirements, and display the drive and attitude to build a successful career in the industry. Successful admission to the programme is firmly focused on attitude over aptitude as no previous software development knowledge is required.

Most students are likely to be 20-45-year-olds and looking for a career change. However, pathways for local school leavers are also planned.

Encouraging gender and cultural diversity is an "absolute key" to bridging the gap between supply and demand.

Of the 14,220 computer science and information technology students studying in 2016, only 36 per cent were female and only 8 per cent of students were Māori.

It is hoped the Developers Institute will play a part in lifting Northland's economic performance.

"We want to train and retain people in our region so they can earn good salaries to support their families," Green-Cole said.