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Only Small Number Of Kiwi Students Progress To Tertiary Tech Education

Technology is New Zealand’s fastest growing and second biggest export sector, but a new national survey has found only a small number of students progress from secondary to tertiary technology education.

There has been a disappointing decline in participation in NCEA technology and maths standards, the core feeder subjects for technology degrees, however it is the drop off between secondary and tertiary education that is most marked, the survey says.

The Digital Skills survey says not enough Kiwis choose lucrative digital tech careers and there is often a mismatch between what the education system provides and what the tech ecosystem needs.

The survey found participation in NCEA technology standards dropped from 52,504 students in 2015 to 48,024 in 2019. While this is set against a backdrop of declining NCEA standards participation there were increases in areas such as construction and hospitality. Of these, only 5102 year 13 students studied digital technology.

Tertiary education is not the only pathway into tech professions, however it is the main pathway and only 1850 students moved into IT degrees from secondary school in 2019.

NZTech chief executive and Digital Skills Forum member Graeme Muller says that given the growth of digital technology roles year on year this decline in student participation is cause for concern.

Graeme Muller

“The nature of the skills demanded by the market requires staff with experience and advanced skills. Consequently, immigration has been used as the primary source of new talent, fulfilling the majority of all new digital technology jobs created most years,” Muller says.

“With the impact of covid and closed borders dramatically reducing this source of talent, there is an increasingly urgent need for locally produced talent.

“This skills mismatch continues to be an issue of concern in New Zealand. Despite the tech sector’s growth, there remains significant opportunity to grow technology exports to contribute even more to New Zealand's export structure.

“New Zealand has not invested in digital skills and innovation to nearly the same extent as high performing small-advanced economies.

“We have made little progress in addressing the mismatch in demand and supply for digital skills. The challenge has only increased in 2020 with the arrival of covid accelerating society’s digital transformation and border closures.”

Survey respondents believed putting in place incentive funding and targets for domestic student graduates was critical for the future of New Zealand’s tech growth – and the economy.

The report recommends that the Tertiary Education Commission, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and industry should help set up and establish a single New Zealand ICT Graduate Schools brand and provide funding to support the schools and their reskilling opportunities to New Zealanders.

Muller says a working group from industry and each of the schools should be established to explore potential specialisation aligned with industries current and future needs.

“The government invested $28.6 million over four years, from 2015, to develop three ICT Graduate Schools in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The objective of the ICT Graduate School programme was to deliver industry focused education and research to create connections between tertiary education providers and hi-tech firms.

“The ICT Graduate Schools have increased the pool of students graduating locally with advanced information technology and computer science skills. Across the three schools, 255 students graduated in 2019 with post-graduate diplomas or masters qualifications.

“This has resulted in a 59 percent growth in graduates with these qualifications between 2017 and 2019. As signalled in the 2019 Budget, funding agreements were not renewed this year. However, the universities have indicated that the existing ICT Graduate Schools will continue to operate within their standard operating models.

“It is hoped that, now links with employers and industries have been established, the tertiary providers can continue to work in partnership with them to maintain and grow this important work.”

“With a global downturn in tourism and its related impacts on the hospitality and retail sectors, the growth of the tech sector remains a strategically critical part of New Zealand's prosperity. In particular, the growth of the tech sector contributes to regional growth and employment, with over 114,000 people now employed by tech firms in New Zealand.

“If New Zealand can encourage more students into tech, the growth in demand for digital skills will be manageable. Throughout secondary school, we must stimulate domestic students' interest in continuing into tertiary study for roles in New Zealand’s fastest growing sector with high paying jobs.”

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