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Tech head: NZICT's Candace Kinser on politicking and skill shortages

Getting skilled people to work in the industry - and holding onto the ones we already have - is a major driver for the new CEO of NZICT.

Since arriving in New Zealand more than 10 years ago, Candace Kinser has racked up a string of hits at a number of science and technology companies. And as the new chief executive of lobby group NZICT, which represents more than 100 businesses across the sector, she says there's no better time to be part of the action.

What drew you to this role?

The opportunity to work across not only the companies I’ve grown to know and love over the years, but to lead an organisation that represents an industry that’s on a rapid trajectory of growth and is second only to dairy in terms of the financial value to the New Zealand economy. It seemed like an ideal position to stretch myself, dealing a lot more with the government, looking at the political landscape of issues.

So you’ll be taking a more active stand politically?

Not in the sense of necessarily politicking, but the politics that comes along with trying to find agreement on contentious issues and making sure we achieve the greatest outcome possible for the greatest number of constituents in our group. When you get a bunch of organisations in the same room, you’re trying to represent a unified voice, but you’re obviously going to get conflicting ideas. The challenge from my perspective is to find a common thread on a lot of issues and being able to represent that not only to the media and public but also the government.

What are your top priorities?

To be an enabler for organisations to do better business, to grow and prosper as companies. Being able to bring opportunities for export to the forefront, and opportunities for organisations to upskill their staff. Working with universities on mentoring programmes is a priority for us as well.

There are a lot of disparate groups across the IT space. Are there opportunities to work together?

There are always going to be smaller organisations with special interests that are vital. They were created because there was a real need and a real desire for their views to be represented. For us to not work with them would be detrimental.

What are the biggest challenges facing the tech industry in New Zealand at the moment?

One of the difficulties lies in getting skilled people to work in the industry, and being sure that we hold on to those people that we do have. If you take that at the top level and drill down – does that mean importing them or educating them?

In terms of educating highly-skilled, technical and business-savvy students, I’m very keen to talk with different universities to shape a curriculum that produces graduates and positions that are relative to the market so that they can be snapped up immediately after graduation.
And we need to fast track higher-level people into the country, whether it be PhD candidates for highly technical roles or highly-skilled business leaders.

Does Auckland have a shot at being a true tech hub – especially if the proposed Wynyard innovation precinct goes ahead?

It sounds like a solid plan with local and central government working together. We just need buy-in from private companies, venture capitalists. If we can get the momentum and conversation going then absolutely. There are cities around the world with similar hubs. With the right thinking and the right planning it could be the place for tech organisations to centralise.