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Specialist border exemptions 'drop in the ocean' for NZ's tech sector

By Catherine Knowles, Tue 28 Dec 2021

Border class exceptions for 600 much-needed specialist tech workers were announced this month by the Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, Dr David Clark.

Clark says, “The sector is now one of our top three exporters, and jobs in tech have been growing at twice the rate of the general economy. It has continued to expand during the COVID-19 pandemic, placing pressure on the demand for talent.”

He says, “We’re carefully targeting areas of the sector where industry has highlighted a clear need for overseas talent including, software development, product managers, cyber security and interactive media.”

“Resolving the skills mismatch is crucial for the tech sector to grow. However, Government also realises the development of tech skills within New Zealand is fundamental for the industry to realise its potential,” he says.

Further details regarding the border exception process will be provided to industry in the New Year, Clark states.

Following the announcement, NZTech released a statement applauding the Government response to the critical digital skills shortage, but acknowledges that it may not be enough.

NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says, “This is a drop in the ocean for the actual numbers needed to support the continued growth of New Zealand’s tech sector and the growing number of critical digital projects across multiple government agencies and large businesses, however it will definitely help reduce some of the pressure.”

According to NZTech, the visas will allow the fast growing tech sector and other sectors where digital skills are in high demand to finally start attracting some of the world’s best tech talent into New Zealand.

The Digital Skills for our Digital Future report released earlier this year highlighted New Zealand’s digital skills mismatch, driven by increasing demand for people with advanced skills while at the same time producing a low level of graduates that lack the required experience.

To keep up with demand, between 3,500 and 4,500 IT visas have been issued each year for the past five years.

Muller says, “This skills mismatch became a critical skills shortage with the closing of the New Zealand borders in response to COVID-19.

“While new digital jobs continued to be created at a rate of more than five percent per annum, the major source of advanced skills and experience needed to fill these new roles was turned off.

“NZTech’s critical workers survey in July found that there were several thousand open roles for a broad range of senior experienced digital workers including product managers for software as a service (SaaS) companies like Xero, interactive media experts for gaming companies, software engineers, data specialist, technical architects and more."

He continues, “The great thing about the growth of the tech sector is that it is creating a large variety of jobs that can suit all sorts of people, and they are all high paid. The median base salary for someone in the tech sector is now over $100,000 or twice the median wage.”

NZTech and the tech sector have been collaborating with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Ministry of Education to start introducing new pathways into tech careers such as digital apprenticeships to help boost the domestics supply of tech talent.

Muller says, "Growing the local supply will take several years so these special tech visas are a first step in the right direction to ensure New Zealand has access to the critical digital skills needed to underpin New Zealand’s economic growth.

"The tech sector has been trapped by the COVID pandemic because of border closures and the struggle to bring skilled tech workers into the country. COVID has throttled tech firms which are finding that hundreds of new roles cannot be filled via immigration.

"NZ tech firms have had to start employing more and more people outside of New Zealand which is not ideal as those jobs will probably never come back to New Zealand.

"With more than 20,000 tech firms in New Zealand the demand for digital skills has hugely outstretched supply, with vacancies throughout the country."

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