Is this the solution to NZ’s tech worker shortage? [BusinessDesk]

Is this the solution to NZ’s tech worker shortage? [BusinessDesk]

This article was written by Henry Burrell and originally published on BusinessDesk.

Some of New Zealand’s technology companies are struggling to hire in a covid-19 world. Senior hires from overseas are difficult to make with closed borders and the pool of NZ talent shrinks with every filled role.

But at the junior end of the hiring scale, NZ is in a better position than you might think. After covid permanently changed industries like tourism and hospitality, there are hundreds of people who want to shift their skills into technology roles.

“This is a good time for us to be rethinking: is there a better way to scale so that the talent shortage can be plugged?” said Diana Sharma, co-founder of tech training company Mission Ready. “While there’s a skill shortage, I don’t think employers recognise the talent that juniors can bring to the table.”

She said graduates are counting themselves out of applying for advertised tech jobs as many companies are asking for two years of experience, even though it is not required.

“The game is shifting now, and a lot of people are starting to recognise tech as a viable future career option.”

Mission Ready’s 12- and 19-week courses physically or virtually retrain approximately 200 people per year to fast track them into junior technology roles. Some are just out of school, but many are eager to retrain and hone their existing skills into a new career.

Sharma told BusinessDesk 85% of candidates land a job within three months of completing the UX design and software development courses.

An optional 10-week industry experience placement as part of those courses is proving successful. One in five people who are placed at an NZ tech company by Mission Ready has a job offer sealed by the time they finish.

“A number of companies recognise that senior intermediate people can hit the ground running faster, but many companies don’t recognise that you could get three or four candidates for the same price as the senior talent. In the long run, junior talent will be a higher return on investment provided you can put in the training, the mentorship and the coaching in place to ensure that they’re well supported.”

Flipping the script

Musician Nick Veale decided to retrain when he could no longer hack his minimum wage concierge job at a hotel.

“I went straight into a Bachelor of Music, with the kind of full intention of trying to chase a career in film composition and become, you know, the next Hans Zimmer or something like that,” he told BusinessDesk. “I tried being a freelance composer, which I quickly found out was a very miserable kind of life.”

Despite earning a master of fine arts and creative practice in 2018, he was stuck with a minimum wage concierge job at a hotel and composing in his spare time. So he and a friend signed up to Mission Ready’s developer course.

“I found out pretty quickly that you don’t actually really need a computer science degree and that doesn’t really teach you very many practical skills.”

He started the course in 2020 and fell in love with the work before his 10-week internship placed him at Auckland e-learning software company Dacreed.

Although he lives in Wellington, he only had to visit the Auckland office twice, and worked remotely the rest of the time. On the second visit, he was offered a full-time job.

“We’re going through a big growth curve at the moment,” David Sherwin, chief technology officer at Dacreed told BusinessDesk. “The best way for us is actually to recruit sort of younger people, recent graduates and interns, or people that have retrained. It’s a very competitive marketplace for what we would ideally go for, which is people with two to three years experience in dedicated roles and areas.”

He said retrained workers are a sweet spot for hiring as they’ve been through the process and procedures of working within other companies and can get quickly up to speed in a new team.

“We need people retraining and bringing their other business skills from the other domains they’ve been.”

Kordia has also recently signed up as a Mission Ready partner and currently has three people from marketing and HR backgrounds three weeks into their 10-week placements.

Kordia’s head of people and culture Anna Ferguson told BusinessDesk there is a skills shortage across the tech sector that is only going to get worse. “As the market continues to tighten, there will be increasingly competitive offers out there and I think that people will jump ship for various reasons across the board. We’re just going to be, you know, all looking in the same pool of talent.”

After reading about Mission Ready in the media, the company got in touch to get retraining.

“It doesn’t have to necessarily mean ‘junior’ in terms of age… starting a new career can happen at any stage in your life.”

New way in

Ferguson said Mission Ready’s internship programme makes it easier for Kordia to fulfil its diversity and inclusion goals. “Being able to tap into talent that perhaps otherwise haven’t had, you know, a traditional path and being able to get a good in the door really appealed to us.”

Veale acknowledged he was privileged enough to be able to quit his hotel job and afford the $4,500 course while relying on his wife’s salary to support them both.

In December, Mission Ready set up thirty-one tech scholarships for Māori and Pasifika candidates for its accelerator courses, and Sharma said people are retraining from backgrounds in performing arts, physical therapy, dentists, nurses, operations, marketing, and more.

“There has not been a slowdown in terms of the growth of tech companies in New Zealand, they’re still trying to recruit at the same rate that they were pre-covid, but there is certainly a supply side issue on the border closures,” Ruth McDavitt, chief executive at Summer of Tech told BusinessDesk.

“It has been a tipping point for us to help have conversations with New Zealand companies about the need to invest in our local talent and hire juniors and train them well.”

Summer of Tech places students in paid summer internships at NZ tech companies, with 334 placements made last year. Under half are in their final year of study, but McDavitt said 80% of all internships turn into some form of employment.

“We have an oversupply of people who want tech jobs and very much an under supply of entry level opportunities. There is a very high success rate for people being retrained, either in a part time capacity if they’re still studying or rolling into a full-time role.”

A jobs initiative also saw the company match graduates to companies for full or part time contracts last year. So far this year it has already done 30.

“We are seeing a big rise in terms of demand for graduates. The wages that they’re getting just in our programme have gone up about $30,000 per annum.”

She said the average graduate salary for tech roles is between $70,000 and $80,000.

But that doesn’t mean every company is primed to train those people well.

Sharma said no company Mission Ready has approached has said no to the accelerator internships but said some organisations don’t have the correct processes in place. Veale said his friend who took a course at the same time as him got “a bit of a dud company” that he wasn’t keen on working with afterwards.

“Not all smaller startups are geared up for that,” said Sherwin. “So you do need the onboarding, the induction, the ways of working, you know, how a tech team operates, you need these things set up… that’s the kind of missing piece.”

Dacreed has hired seven of the nine interns it has worked with through Mission Ready’s courses. “They’re loyal, they stick around longer, and you can get a lot more productivity out of junior talent in a five year term,” Sharma said.

Veale puts it slightly differently.

“I just worked my arse off basically until they couldn’t say no to giving me a job,” he said.