Call for education to match tech growth

NZ Tech has reached a milestone with substantial expansion in New Zealand’s fastest growing and third largest export earner: the tech sector.

While New Zealand’s tech sector continues to grow at an increasingly rapid pace, New Zealand’s technology education systems lag behind.

The tech sector creating nearly 100,000 jobs and growth throughout New Zealand was celebrated at NZTech’s annual meeting this week.

NZTech, the national umbrella group for Kiwi tech companies, represents more than 300 organisations.

The tech sector makes up 8 per cent of the country’s GDP and contributes more than $6.3 billion in exports.

Chief executive Graeme Muller says the tech sector is surging ahead from startups and local tech firms to multinationals, ICT and high tech manufacturing outfits.

“Our goal is to stimulate an environment where technology provides important productivity and economic benefits for New Zealand. The tech sector has higher paid and higher qualified employees than all other sectors.”

The contributions of ICT to New Zealand’s GDP growth were higher than any other OECD country between 2001 and 2013.

Graeme Muller

The major economic impact study, Digital Nation New Zealand, was the biggest project this year for NZTech. It took more than 6 months of research and aims to provide foundation for further initiatives.

“The project has opened discussion with government agencies on how best to promote New Zealand internationally as a leading tech company.”

NZTech is working with the Institute of IT Professionals and the Ministry of Education to help accelerate the introduction of computational thinking throughout New Zealand schools.

As most jobs now have a large tech component, children will need skills of computational thinking, managing data, complex problem solving and knowledge of how to work computer systems.

“Without these skills the tech sector will suffer, and also our agri-sector - which relies more and more on agri-tech - our transport, construction, healthcare and finance sectors. They are all becoming tech sectors.”

Muller says the government introducing computational thinking into the curriculum is a small first step, but schools, principals and teachers need to prioritise its introduction, which will take significant government investment.

“The pace is woefully slow, yet the pace of technology change is incredibly fast.”

Outgoing NZTech chair Bennett Medary says he would like to see New Zealand recognised in the next 5 to 10 years for being the world’s most tech savvy country.

“I would like to see tech, tourism and many other sectors all growing concurrently. We are deeply committed to the vision of a prosperous New Zealand, led by a vibrant tech sector.”