Guest Post: New Talent To Drive Our Economy

A guest post by Rees Ward:

One hundred years ago, our export trade revolved around packing up sheep carcasses or their wool into a ship and waiting two months before they got to market. Today, some of our best export earners can weigh nothing and are delivered in fractions of a second.

New Zealand’s economy is transforming as the new service driven economy is broadening our export base beyond our traditional agricultural exports.

have recently returned from working for the New Zealand Consulate General based in Los Angeles. Much of my work there involved supporting New Zealand firms, who were engaging with the rapidly growing tech sector Silicon Valley and across the wider Western USA economy.

California is growing jobs fast on the back of the tech sector – and this is creating additional demand for the supporting professions that drive business growth. These well paid jobs are available to those with the skills and the education to be part of that economy.

It is acknowledged that Silicon Valley emerged from the leadership and innovation of Stanford University. That has evolved to create an eco-system of venture capital, research and innovation. Silicon Valley has nearly a third of private sector workers in the tech sector firms. These are some of the wealthiest and best paid people in the United States. American firms are now fighting to get their hands on a tech capable workforce.

The New Zealand tech sector is also growing fast and has its heart in our own “Silicon Harbour” – the Wellington region. Firms like Xero, Weta Digital, Datacom and Trade Me are based here. They are joined by other yet-to-be household names such as Wipster, Fronde, Aurora 44, PledgeMe, Intergen and 8 who are creating good jobs and strong export revenues.

To support the development of the “Silicon Harbour”, the Wellington City Council opened a tech hub and collaboration space in November, to support this growth. This is part of developing connections which nurture the next generation of IT firms.

But what one of our fastest growing sectors is calling out for most, is more talent. Further the demand is just not for “geeks and nerds” – but the soft skills able to integrate technology solutions into the business environment. To become part of the new economy – and to get a better paying job – retraining to acquire new skills might be required.

The Government announced in October that it is backing a new collaboration between Victoria University, Wellington Institute of Technology and Whitireia to develop a post graduate school for ICT. This idea was too exciting opportunity for me not to sign up.  The Wellington ICT Graduate School deliver five Masters degree programmes in 2016. The courses have been designed to bring a diverse range of skilled and talented people into the ICT industry.

For most mid-career people, the thought of returning to University to complete a “new” undergraduate education is not only impractical, it is impossible. The solution has been to develop one year post-graduate “conversion” Masters degrees. A background as a teacher or a social worker could be a bonus rather than a barrier.

ICT firms are actively engaged in the education process at the School. Some learning will take place through internship, mentorship and entrepreneurial programmes as well as project work and placements in the workplace. This brings the education closer to what firms need today, rather than what the textbook printed last year says. Founder of Green Button, Scott Houston has bought his considerable to the board and bought a strong focus on creating a talent generator that will fuel the growth of our ICT industry.

Our economy will be increasingly reliant on our Silicon Harbour as a route to the global economy. The Wellington ICT Graduate School will soon start developing new leadership. For firms wanting to bring on that talent, we are open for business.

Rees Ward is the Director of the Wellington ICT Graduate School.

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