Article

Get serious with tech

New Zealand’s technology sector is facing a shortage of skilled digital workers. HPE’s David Eaton believes part of the solution is including digital skills in the Curriculum from a young age and upskilling teachers to use digital technology more effectively.

David-EatonDavid Eaton has identified a number of challenges facing New Zealand’s technology sector, most notably the considerable shortage of skilled digital workers and graduates that are equipped to work in the IT industry.

In a white paper, ‘The tech education challenge in New Zealand’, the Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) Chief Information Officer hopes to entice digital development in schools with changes to the New Zealand Curriculum.

“From an employment point of view, we do not see digital literacy in the marketplace. We can’t find it locally [from new graduates]; like most multinationals we tend to go offshore,” explained Eaton.

“Regardless about what’s being said about training and digital technology in education, in reality for the industry, it’s just not there. This issue isn’t unique to New Zealand; we see the same challenge in many other first world economies.”

ICT skills as mandatory

Specific to New Zealand, however, is the fact that ICT remains optional in the Curriculum.

“In New Zealand in 2016, ICT is still a vocational topic. It’s a choice. In the UK, it’s now mandated in the primary curriculum. New Zealand needs to start seeing ICT skills as mandatory.”

By IT skills Eaton doesn’t mean using tablets as training aids.

“We’re talking about programming, computer-aided design, 3D modelling. In 10 years’ time, if you’re going to do any job – be it a boat builder or an engineer – it’ll be necessary to have those skills.

More important than learned skills, however, is the ability to leverage them with the skill of innovation.

“Most companies struggle to find people that can innovate. When you have a top student straight from school or university, they might never have failed in their lives. Bringing innovation from their standpoint into a corporate environment is a challenge.”

Eaton’s solution to the skills shortage is engaging students at secondary level in project-based learning. HPENZ is currently working with Avondale College in Auckland in a strategic partnership to fully redesign and update its technology environment (and is seeking to partner with other schools in a similar way).

“The focus is on the project,” said Eaton. “As an employer, if a kid has worked in a project environment, and failed and restarted several times to make their project a success, they’ve learned how to evolve and innovate. They’re a lot more desirable.”

Bottom-up approach

In line with HPENZ’s efforts with the College, Eaton believes primary and secondary schools should co-operate with others from the technology sector to develop similar programmes, internships, and on-the-job training.

“This is a bottom-up approach. It’s about getting local schools and local businesses to connect. We need to help kids to prepare for life in the future; a life that is different from when the Curriculum was written.”

Nationwide, Eaton believes, there’s also a deficit in ICT teacher training.

“Teachers won’t teach things they’re not comfortable with or interested in,” he said, noting the average age of a New Zealand teacher is 55. “Without professional development it is unlikely that the majority of them will become passionate advocates in digital technology.”

Eaton would like to see heavy investment in the education sector in teachers’ ICT PD, particularly as part of their tertiary qualifications. He encourages current educators to request funding to go to The Mind Lab by Unitec, which runs professional development courses in line with what’s going on in the tech industry.

Responsibility, here, also falls on the Government and school administrators, he believes.

“We’ve talked to politicians in this area. There’s an issue around remuneration. There are no rewards for the teachers who invest their time in ICT PD. They’re on the same payroll as those who don’t. Schools need to show the initiative to reward.”  

Dave Eaton is Chief Information Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and was talking to INTERFACE’s Lee Suckling. For a copy of his white paper go to bit.ly/hpenzeaton

Categories: Article, Issue 70