What does the future hold for IT in New Zealand and what skills do we already have, and what do we need to focus on? NZRise hosted a lively panel discussion about this in late February 2022.

What emerged from 90 minutes with our panellists was an eye-opening exploration of the tech industry, mainly through the lens of education. There was universal agreement that almost anyone can learn the hard skills necessary for a job from a textbook,  however soft skills such as empathy, teamwork and lifelong learning are far more important, not only to the sector, but to business in general. Most importantly it became clear that these skills are the ones business owners and managers are looking for the most.

The Panel
Victoria Maclennan (OptimalBI) chaired the panel that consisted of Rohan Wakefield (Enspiral Dev Academy) Aleisha Amohia (Catalyst IT) and Miki Szikszai (Snapper). They  shared their thoughts as to what is required to align input and output within the context of IT and related industries.

Rohan highlighted that “at Dev Academy, people come to us looking for a way to market and to get a job and we measure ourselves by that simple metric. In equipping our students for work, we asked the industry what they are looking for and they have come back, overwhelmingly with the need for people who are adaptable, resilient and passionate”. 

Clearly New Zealand needs diverse people to solve diverse problems and we need people who are willing to travel or who are involved regionally to understand the problems and solutions in a local context.

People first
Aleisha reiterated that “It’s important to understand that we need to reevaluate our skills, we can learn all things technical, and some will be faster and better than others, our digital skills are not lacking, and we need to prioritise things that cannot be graded, such as critical thinking, and the ability to put people first”.

Putting humans first has been a buzzword for over a decade, although in reality nothing has really changed for most organisations. The ones that have embraced change have succeeded  and have laid the foundation for others to follow. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, because we are not automatons, each workplace culture and each individual will bend and meld the approach accordingly.

At Snapper, Miki said “We seek individuals who are always looking for change, to have resilience in the face of adversity, people who are able to see the world through different lenses, these are important attributes. A suite of skills is sometimes more important than a deep dive into a silo, and when we speak of empathy, we mean empathy to the market which we are serving. Our biggest challenge is not the person seeking employment, it is to change and educate organisations in order for them to be able to grow and develop people”.

These skills crossover into the way that development is done, we need engineering empathy as well. Stop conforming to what is expected and understand who people are. Speak from their perspective and allow people to stand in their own power.

Allow space for people to grow
All of this needs a safe environment in which people can speak their mind and are not afraid to stand up for things which they deem important. Assist people to be proactive, to seek advice, and provide mental health, emotional support and the ability to resolve conflict. An environment in which self-awareness and collaboration are key drivers of success.

“One of the pathways to success that Snapper uses now is to not hire just one graduate, but to hire four. By combining their talents he has found that the sum is greater than the whole and, with guidance, these seemingly young and inexperienced teams can deliver great work.”

In order to have a fantastic and meaningful graduate programme, leaders within a dev team now need to be great training and development leaders, and this is a fundamental shift from traditional roles wherein seniors have handled the high-end dev. It turns out, by turning them into training leaders, seniors now have time to work on things that they want to, which is a win all around.

Our biggest challenges are extraneous factors, and ones which NZRise are working with ministers to address. Our small labour market has been hampered my COVID restrictions, social services seemingly being diminished and overall livability at the moment mean other countries represent better options for kiwis and those abroad.

Be the place people want to call home
If we cannot compete in a salary shoot-out , Aotearoa needs to be a comfortable place to work in, to, live in,  and to call home, for locals and immigrants alike.

With regard to diversity, Aleisha highlighted the need to be inclusive and not treat people as tokens or saviours of the ‘inclusivity goal’ by simply existing. Integrate, make Te Reo available as often as possible and think about the way in which all minority groups will interact with your team, your business and your products.

Respect and empathy
New Zealand has the skills and we have the ability to teach and to learn the skills that will enable us to get down to developing and coding. We need to place more emphasis on questions such as ‘what it is to be human’, we need to treat each other with respect and prioritise core traits such as empathy and compassion. We need leadership that embraces diversity as a strength and not a tick box, and how this can make our work and our lives richer and more rewarding.

No person is an island, let’s work together, embrace each other and instil lifelong learning as a core trait amongst New Zealanders.

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