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Some Thoughts on IT Employment in New Zealand

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New Zealand has a small manufacturing industry and builds very few computer components or peripherals. The nation does, however, have a significant reputation as an IT proving ground and high-volume user of products and services. New Zealand's Internet traffic totals are among the highest in the world. In fact, New Zealand has the seventh highest number of Internet hosts per 1,000 inhabitants in the world and the fourth highest number of secure servers per million people, according to figures released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year.2

Recent statistics also show that mobile phone usage is increasing significantly and that 33% of New Zealand homes had a computer in the 1997/1998 year.

New Zealand is an early adopter of software development technologies and prolific producer of IT applications. It has a vibrant professional society for individuals (the New Zealand Computer Society, or NZCS) and an active sales and service industry organization (Information Technology Association of New Zealand, or ITANZ), together with several focused professional groups such as the Internet Society and Telecommunications Association. It also has chapters for both the ACM and IEEE. Essentially, the IT industry in New Zealand is a value-adding environment, utilizing tools and technologies developed elsewhere.

The issue of hiring capable IT staff is as critical for New Zealand as anywhere in the world. There is an ongoing need for qualified staff in all aspects of IT, especially applications systems developers. Critical areas of shortage are in the areas of programming, databases, and software engineering. Web development skills are always in demand, along with specific expertise in project management. Personnel are recruited from within New Zealand as graduates from the eight universities and 13 polytechnics, in addition to a highly mobile population of experienced practitioners. Individuals are recruited from overseas, particularly Asia and India, but very few from the U.K. or U.S. where salaries are considerably higher and opportunities more varied.

The problem of hiring competent IT professionals is further exacerbated by the outflow of computing graduates from New Zealand, especially to the U.S. and U.K. The numbers of graduates who complete a bachelor's degree and then go on to graduate study has diminished by 50% over the past decade, even in a climate where more students are taking computing courses and completing computing degrees. Many students complete joint degrees with computing as one of their majors, but the progression to graduate study has slowed proportionally due to attractive high starting salaries in industry and the increase in study fees for graduate work.

Recruiting computing staff at any level is difficult for the universities and polytechnics, where the salaries are not competitive with New Zealand industry, let alone overseas.

The major international recruiting and consulting agencies operate in New Zealand and individuals are recruited from New Zealand to other parts of the world. Fewer proportionally are recruited into New Zealand, although in the past decade there has been a trend of qualified people returning from overseas positions to take up new posts in the country. Many of these people cite lifestyle priorities as a significant factor in their decision to return to New Zealand.

Lack of sustainable research funding has attracted some academics into industry, but most who leave the universities or polytechnics go to positions abroad. There are some joint appointments where individual academics have fractional industry positions, but instances of these are rare. Similarly, although some practitioners leave industry to join the universities or polytechnics, these appointments are few and seldom at senior levels. Recruiting computing staff at any level is difficult for the universities and polytechnics, where the salaries are not competitive with New Zealand industry, let alone overseas.

Optimism in the IT industry is high in New Zealand and the opportunities to take part in a variety of systems development, management, and marketing projects abound, but the dearth of highly skilled and qualified professionals is continuing to hinder the rate and scope of growth. More and better-focused funding for research and development, particularly for salaries, would probably attract a larger number of professionals to either stay in New Zealand if they are nationals, or possibly attract non-nationals to apply for work in the New Zealand IT industry.

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Philip J. Sallis ( is Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research & Development) and Professor of Computer Science at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.

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1 See the Statistics New Zealand Web site; for all related IT statistics in this essay.


©2001 ACM  0002-0782/01/0700  $5.00

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2001 ACM, Inc.


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