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Do you need a degree to work in tech? More than 100 of NZ's biggest companies say no

Some of Aotearoa's largest companies have signed an open letter urging a rethink of the country's education system. But will anyone take notice?

Do you need a university degree for a job at a big business or corporation?

It’s a provocative question, sure. But it’s one that a fair chunk of some of Aotearoa’s largest businesses are now asking – and urging the Government to do something about as it rethinks the nation’s education system.

More than 100 companies have signed an open letter declaring tertiary qualifications are not required for a range of roles within their workplaces. Titled “NZ Talent,” the letter was signed with an aim to change the conversation around education in New Zealand.

The University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

The letter claims companies do not require tertiary qualifications for a range of skills-based roles. Instead, the focus during recruitment will be on assessing the skills, attitudes, motivation and adaptability of applicants.

One of the companies that signed the letter, TradeMe, has launched a “no qualifications” search filter on its Jobs site. Jeremy Wade, the head of TradeMe Jobs says TradeMe wants to make sure Kiwis are aware of their options. “While tertiary qualifications and study work well, it is certainly not the only avenue to securing a great job as many employers value life experience and passion above all else.”​

The open letter is an initiative under the ASB/KPMG Strategic Insights Panel (SIP), a group of 30 senior business leaders from New Zealand companies who have set a goal to help double GDP per capita growth from 1.5 percent to 3 percent by 2021.

Frances Valintine, who co-led the SIP, says the letter recognises the growing demand from employers for skills that are often learned outside the traditional tertiary framework. “Businesses across New Zealand are struggling to find talented employees that can bring enthusiasm, natural talent, passion and potential to their companies as qualifications do not always reflect the true capability of applicants,” she explains. “Solving the talent crisis requires bold new ways to match people, capability and jobs and I believe removing the fixed requirement for a formal qualification is a great first step.”

EdCollective chief executive Luc Shorter says tertiary education remains valuable but cannot be considered the only route to employment. “Traditional tertiary education will always have a place, but industries and the way people access knowledge has changed and is continuing to change at pace. As such, we need to validate additional pathways for getting people into skilled jobs.

“People learn a great deal from their work and life experience; we need to be more open to valuing that.”

A sight on the campus of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

ASB executive general manager business Steve Jurkovich says ASB shares the view there is a growing demand for contemporary skills which are often learned outside formal education programmes. “We hope the letter will start a conversation around the different pathways to prepare young people for employment and what businesses can do to attract the right talent in the fast-changing job market.”

The ASB/KPMG Strategic Insights Panel was launched in September 2016 as a place where business can go to fast-track key projects to create the best opportunities for the social and economic prosperity of New Zealand. A group of 30 senior business leaders from a range of New Zealand companies, it helps support NZ Talent, which was set up to help raise awareness of opportunities available to young people outside of traditional tertiary education.

Companies that signed the letter include: ASB, Adherium, AIA, AMS, Animation Research, Artificial Intelligence Forum NZ, Autex, AWF Madison, Bidfood Limited, Bobux, Booktrack, Buckley Systems, Cardinal Logistics, Catalyst, Ceres Organics, Child Fund, CoHired, Colliers International, Countdown, Criffel Station, Delmaine, Direct Capital, Eat My Lunch, Ed. Collective, Edmund Hillary Fellowship, Enspiral Dev Academy, Epay, Euro Corporation, Exess Connectivity, Figure NZ, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Fonterra, Foodstuffs North Island, Fronde, Frontside, Giftstation, Go Bus, Harrison Grierson, HiFX, Hi-Tech Trust, Hunchbuzz, Iceberg, Icebreaker, Icehouse, iMoko, Intergen, Invenco Group Limited, IT Engine Limited, Jucy, Kiwirail, Kotahi, KPMG, Manaiakalani Trust, Metlifecare, Microsoft, Moa, Mondiale, Movio, My Food Bag, Naveya and Sloane, Next Foundation, Noel Leeming, NW Group, NZ Rise, NZ Tech, NZRS, OMG Tech, Optimal Business Intelligence, Optimisation, Osynlig, PledgeMe, Prestige Law, Pure Commerce, QualIT, Radius Care, Ria, Roam, Ruckus Media, Rush Digital, Safestack, Shine, Skycity, SMX, Solarcity, Soul Machines, Spark, Spidertracks, Summerset Group, Swaytech, Tech Futures Lab, The Exponential Agency, The Mind Lab, The Warehouse, Torpedo 7, Totara Learning, Tourism Holdings NZ, TradeMe, Trilogy International Limited, Unfiltered, Unitec, Vector, Vend, Venture Centre NZ, Vista Group, Waiora Pacific, Warehouse Stationary, WorldFront, and Xero.

Read the letter here.

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