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New Zealand’s technology sector is booming – but education needs to catch up

The head of the country’s umbrella tech organisation says it’s boom time for both its organisation and the industry in New Zealand. NZTech now has more than 400 tech companies on board from across the country and has expanded its board, but what else is needed to grow the industry? The government’s recent investment into digital education is a start, says Vend founder and OMGTech! co-founder Vaughan Rowsell.

NZTech held its eighth annual meeting yesterday, where it announced the businesses that make up its community now collectively employ 100,000 people.

Chief executive Graeme Muller says its members consist of start-ups, multinationals, education providers, financial institutions and high-tech manufacturers. Notable national and international members include Xero, Google and Callaghan Innovation.

Mullers says the growth of the industry is crucial not just for the sector, but for New Zealand’s economy and the nation’s wellbeing as a whole.

“Technology is critical for the future prosperity of New Zealand. The tech sector now employs six percent of the country’s workforce. It is the fastest growing segment of our economy generating eight percent of our GDP and nine percent of our exports,” Muller says.

“However, it is the actual use of technology that will truly drive prosperity for New Zealand. Better use of the Internet could result in $34 billion in economic growth, better use of IoT could be worth more than $2.2 billion across nine use cases alone and smarter use of data could be worth $4.5 billion.”

NZTech board chair Mitchell Pham says NZTech’s rapid expansion is evident in the diversification of the sector and the creation of new national alliances, such as the AI Forum, FintechNZ the IoT Alliance and the start-up communities.

“Our existing regional connections such as with Canterbury continue to strengthen, while new ones being fostered and developed include the Bay of Plenty and Waikato,” Pham says.

But in a column in Idealog’s 2017 Technology issue, out next week, OMGTech! co-founder and Vend founder Vaughan Rowsell says more needs to be done to equip the future generations so they can flourish in the tech industry.

Seeing as the World Economic Forum report predicts that 65 percent of jobs for primary school aged kids will have as adults don’t actually exist yet, he says it’s essential digital technologies and a strong knowledge of tech are taught to the youth of today.

“Many young New Zealanders don’t believe they can have a career in these [creative and tech] sectors and that is just dumb,” Rowsell says.

“How we have taught for the last 150 years is not going to be right for our kids. We should be able to give each kid a customised learning journey and empower teachers to facilitate. Technology can do this. We just need to help the teachers out first. It’s a scary new world.”

Minister of Education Nikki Kaye announced last month the government has made an investment of about $40 million in the education sector to enhance digital fluency among young people.

The funding will be spread over three years, with more than half the money ($24 million) going towards helping upskill New Zealand’s teachers. Digital Technologies will be a compulsory subject from years 1 to 10 by 2020 and new NCEA credits will also be developed for years 11 to 13.

Rowsell welcomed the move, saying it was a step in the right direction to increase the tech and digital knowledge of young people.

“New Zealand’s opportunity over the next ten years is to position itself as an innovation nation. The world is rapidly becoming a different place driven by technology and if we want to be seen as a world leader, then this starts with ensuring every child in New Zealand gets a world class digital technologies education.”

He said both parents and children should embrace the new curriculum.

“This will be more challenging in some communities but we have already seen some great work in some of our underserved communities including Manaiakalani, and OMGTech!’s pilot with the Otara Principals Cluster,” he says.

Meanwhile, Muller says NZTech will continue to raise the profile of the local tech sector as a dynamic and exciting industry to work in, as well as a critical pillar of the New Zealand economy.