By Kaye Harding, ISV Partner Lead at Microsoft New Zealand.
New Zealand is a standout digital nation, punching well above its weight when it comes to innovation, tech adoption and capacity for growth.
As Microsoft APAC Cloud Lead Padi Quesnel noted recently: "Though we may be small, we think big" and 2020 has dramatically sped up the timeline for innovation.
Never before have we seen so much opportunity for local software developers to grow into multinational players – and never before has it been so important to overcome our talent shortage, limited budgets and legacy systems in order to reach that potential.
If we don't want to miss the boat, we need to start collaborating more as an industry, pooling our resources and skills to make New Zealand tech innovation the envy of the world.
Conversations with developers highlight universal challenges getting enough skilled workers. As an industry, we're all guilty of overfishing the talent pool, poaching from one another rather than nurturing new skills.
Microsoft is helping address this by funding programmes like our global skills initiative, which has trained more than 33,000 New Zealanders in digital technologies since June 2020. As one of the world's largest tech companies, we have both the resources and the responsibility to take the lead on skilling and retraining future IT professionals. But it doesn't take a massive investment to support a stronger talent base – every tech business can play its part.
With borders closed to new workers at the moment, upskilling the people we already have is not only essential, it also helps workers go further in their careers.
Many courses are available from education providers around New Zealand, providing micro-credentials and longer qualifications that help fill the skills gap and empower workers to take on new roles and challenges.
There are even free courses like the AI Fundamentals Workshop for Women we held in February, aiming to help more women enhance their credentials with Azure certification. Our local industry is small, and the more workers we have with the right skills, the more they will pass these skills around the industry – all it takes is everyone making an effort to invest in their people.
Future-proofing the talent pool also means showing today's school students what opportunities exist (or could exist) in the tech industry. The recent Digital Skills Aotearoa survey shows the percentage of both school and university students taking technology and maths is declining.
Also worrying is the fact that only 27 per cent of digital technology employees are women, and less than five per cent are Māori.
Kids love coding and Minecraft and gaming, but as they get older many seem to feel tech careers are not "for people like us". How do we solve that? It takes an industry-wide effort to demonstrate the vast array of roles available, getting into schools from primary level up to introduce students to people of all genders, cultures and backgrounds who are doing great things in tech.
By joining initiatives such as TechWomen or partnering with other businesses to host regular talks, info sessions and open days, every tech company can help inspire the next generation of developers and show that creativity, a desire to help others, entrepreneurship or communication skills can all open pathways in the tech industry.
Beyond growing skills within the sector, software companies have a real opportunity to pool resources more effectively so everyone benefits. Some of Microsoft's partners like Defend, a cybersecurity specialist, or Aware Group, with strong AI and IoT capabilities, have been providing support and specialist resourcing to other local businesses who haven't got these capabilities in-house.
In the short term, we can collaborate with offshore talent via tools like GitHub and Teams, but wouldn't it be amazing to see a full tech ecosystem develop here in New Zealand, where everyone shared their specialist knowledge and could outsource roles to one another as needed to boost our national capability?
Among our partners, there's a real thirst for more of this collaboration. Some are facing challenges with legacy apps that haven't been born in the cloud, trying to run old applications alongside the new.
Field workers without access to cloud apps are finding this limits their work, and in some businesses there's still a lot of separation between the CEO who leads business strategy and the CTO who needs to implement it.
People want to hear from industry peers who are dealing with these challenges successfully and seeing strong growth. When more than three Microsoft partners tell us in the space of a week that they want more opportunities to learn from each other, that's a sign we need to be sharing our knowledge more.
There are advantages to being a small but nimble nation. New Zealand's size means we really can build strong local partnerships that create opportunities for every business in the industry. The success hundreds of Microsoft's local partners have achieved through our global networks proves local innovation stands alongside the best in the world. And the massive rise in digital platforms and business models is a chance for everyone to scale into new markets, provided we can overcome the skills gap and share our knowledge.
So let's talk.