The first students at a new school to help fuel New Zealand's push to be a powerful player in the digital revolution will take their places on November 9.
The first 70 students will begin study in the 12-week Postgraduate Certificate in Information Technology at the new ICT Graduate School hosted at the University of Auckland in partnership with the University of Waikato. It aims to help fill the gap between insatiable demand from the burgeoning Information & Communications Technology industry and the skills shortage hampering that same growth.
It is also the first step in bringing non-technology graduates into a field that offers good careers with quick advancement in a globally-growing industry but which suffers from a lack of people who can help that growth with non-technical skills.
Shortages of skilled ICT graduates has been recognised for some time and the government commitment of nearly $29 million to develop three schools over four years (in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington) is designed to ease the problem.
The reason for the shortfall appears twofold, according to Professor Gillian Dobbie, currently Head of Computer Science at the University of Auckland but soon to become head of the new ICT Graduate School.
Numbers of graduates from tertiary institutions have not kept pace with the runaway growth of the industry plus, now the industry was maturing as it grew, there was a demand for graduates with a broader range of skills than just technical proficiency.
"The industry is crying out not just for people with technology skills from Computer Science or Bachelor of Science degrees," she says. "They need people who can fit into a professional organisation who have other business skills, like interpersonal skills, time management, presentation skills and even management skills."
So the new Graduate ICT Certificate is aimed at those with qualifications in areas other than ICT, like Arts or Engineering graduates, for example. The course teaches fundamental skills in software development, including object-oriented programming and design, Web technologies and databases - and runs for six weeks before Christmas and then six weeks afterwards.
Nuwanthie Samarakone, CEO of ICE Professionals, an emerging-talent placement and consultancy company focused on talented undergrads, graduates and young professionals, says technical graduates are still needed to power the growth of the ICT industry.
"But what we have heard from clients and the industry over the last 18-24 months is that start-ups and high-growth businesses just don't have the time to support and manage the development of young staff.
"Technical grads maybe tend to be more introverted and data-driven whereas these days businesses are looking for people who have technical skills, yes, but who are also more personality-driven, with better inter-personal skills who can bring a greater breadth and range to their work environment and help that business to grow."
She says the "boot camp concept" of the certificate course will help graduates from non-technical spheres realise they could have a career in a technology industry: "It helps to make grads realise they can choose a brand they want to work for versus having to go into a sector they are qualified for; technology is not yet a sector of choice for those people but this will help change that."
The urgency behind the decision to offer the certificate and a Master of Information Technology degree was underlined by Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce who pointed to the potential for New Zealand's burgeoning ICT industry to be left behind as the global industry was expected top grow by US$1.3 trillion between 2013 and 2020.
"The New Zealand ICT industry is making a name for itself on the world stage and is growing rapidly," he said at the time. "It is crucial New Zealand lifts significantly the number of people with high-level ICT skills and knowledge so they can help drive innovation in this sector and build a more productive and internationally competitive economy."
Various institutions produced 1900 graduates last year and there had been a 20 per cent lift in enrolment in ICT-related degrees - but more were needed: "This industry is going to be a serious export industry for New Zealand. I can see it being in our top five."
The Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry (MBIE - another portfolio of Joyce's) has said by 2017 New Zealand would need another 50,000 highly skilled workers, including the ICT industry. Software and service exports had risen at an average rate of 14 per cent a year over six years to reach $930 million last year.
Overall, nearly 75,000 people were employed in ICT-related occupations last year - 12,600 more than in 2012; IT stocks made up 10 per cent of the value of listed companies on the NZX, up from just 1 per cent in 2010. Joyce says the inability to meet demand for skilled professionals could damage New Zealand's chances of being able to seize opportunities in the fast-moving, fast-changing digital sphere.
ICT Certificate graduates will be among those able to gain entry to the Master of Information Technology degree course which offers advanced skills in specialist areas, increased understanding of workplace norms and development and commercialisation of technology products and services. The Master of Information Technology degree begins next year.
For more information about the Auckland ICT Graduate School, visit www.ictgraduateschool.ac.nz