People are in demand in New Zealand's ICT industry – but these days it is no longer enough to have tech skills.
So says Māori digital specialist Warren Williams, head of Digital Taniwha and a member of the advisory group for the Auckland ICT Graduate School which offers postgraduate programmes to develop smart, industry-ready professionals.
Williams has had 20 years' experience in ICT and his Digital Taniwha company consults on IT strategy and transformation projects, helping people and businesses achieve their goals through social media and innovative technology.
The Auckland ICT Graduate School is a collaboration between the University of Auckland and the University of Waikato and offers two postgraduate programmes to develop industry-ready candidates to meet the current high demand for ICT experts. Both the Master of Information Technology (MInfoTech) and Postgraduate Certificate in Information Technology (PGCertInfoTech) programmes teach a combination of technology and business skills, as well as the ability to think critically and find innovative solutions.
Williams says those additional skills are vital these days: "ICT is a major factor in most if not all industries in New Zealand, and worldwide, and a technology-focused workforce is needed to investigate and provide systems and services."
But Williams says it's no longer enough to just have the technical skills; the ICT leaders of tomorrow also need soft skills, to translate that tech savvy into workable solutions which can be communicated to those in business.
"The internships [offered as part of the Auckland ICT Graduate School's Master of Information Technology] enable the students to take their tech speak and turn it into business-speak as well," Williams says. "There are a lot of skilled people out there but they need to be more than tech focused.
"They need to be able to connect with customers and stakeholders, so they can explain a solution and express what it's going to do for that business."
It's a skill Williams is familiar with in his work with Digital Taniwha: "People should drive technology and not have technology drive them," he says. "I can see the ever-changing impact that social media and technology have on our lives so I am always looking to see how technology can improve our lives."
Students also gain "real-world" experience through the Masters of Information Technology internship programme, which sees them placed in a relevant industry full-time for 10 weeks. Interns are supported by an academic mentor and an industry supervisor in a range of partner businesses which offer the opportunity to explore the practical application of emerging technologies.
"One of the biggest things about the programme is that it attracts students from a wide range of fields of study — including management, social sciences or communications — and from all industries," says Williams.
Williams also says the ICT industry needs to attract a wider range of candidates to properly serve an increasingly diverse population – and to grow itself.
Of Tūhoe and Waikato descent, Williams sees the benefits of more women and ethnicities joining the ICT workforce: "As New Zealanders, we're known for being innovative and entrepreneurial — we look at things in unique ways," he says.
"This provides great opportunities to industry, drawing on the diverse cultures we have here and using that range of ideas and world views to shape new tech solutions."
Williams says the best way to encourage diversity in the industry is through providing strong role models for all genders and ethnic backgrounds: "We want people training in the industry to be exposed to these people, so they can talk to them and share their experiences. It's so important to have real-life examples."
One of the big attractions of working in the industry, he adds, is how fast the landscape changes, with frequent innovations in hardware and software.
But this rapid pace of development means those working in the sector need to keep up to date and continually upskill.
"Rapid change in technology is both an advantage and challenge for ICT in New Zealand," he says. "The exciting part is that new ways of working are being introduced all the time and the challenge is keeping up with the specialised skills needed to make the most of this new technology.
"Taking on interns can help businesses with this, because students are learning all the time. When they go into companies and bring their ideas to the workforce, they can help the organisation look at things differently."