In a talent-short market, do we need to re-think our approach to graduate hires?

25 February 2021 Kaleb Leeming


COVID-19 and the resulting border restrictions have severely impacted the talent available in the I.T. sector, putting further pressure on an already tight market - we see rapidly increasing salaries in some skillsets and more aggressive poaching of highly-skilled and senior technical capability between businesses.

Despite these evident talent shortages, it seems we are still doing too little to support our homegrown I.T. graduates into careers. Graduate job-seekers report being written-off as ‘inexperienced’, entry-level positions require an unrealistic two to three years’ experience, and – despite some businesses successfully implementing them – graduate training programmes are few and far between.

Unlike other study areas in New Zealand where too many students are being trained for careers with few job openings, the IT industry is severely candidate-short, yet we are failing at effectively transitioning graduates into jobs.

With the current lack of talent in the market, surely it’s time we re-evaluated our approach to IT graduates and started thinking about this pool of potential talent differently.

Businesses are under constant pressure to deliver results at a low cost, and hiring graduates can potentially be seen to slow down the cadence, especially if they require a significant amount of training or development before they can contribute. So businesses probably ask themselves – is it worth the cost, and will they stick around?

Is it merely that most New Zealand businesses require a change in thinking, or as a collective do we need to do a better job at demonstrating the benefits of grad programmes and the qualities that graduate employees can bring? Think flexibility, the ability to learn new skills quickly, technology agnostic, enthusiastic, and potentially very loyal if offered a lucrative spot on a graduate programme!

Yes, there are some barriers to bringing on graduates, yet several organisations are putting significate time and investment into hiring the next generation of tech leaders – ANZ, Vodafone, Ministry of Social Development, ASB and Cin 7, to name a few. Their commitment demonstrates that there must be some real benefits to be gained in the long term if it is done well.

With a range of IT and Telecommunications roles listed on Immigration New Zealand’s skills shortage lists, but with the borders closed, could the Government also be working more with NZ businesses to encourage young New Zealanders to move into careers in these key industries?

Suppose the financial risk of employing graduates is too high for smaller businesses. Should Government be stepping up to incentivise employers to hire graduates, or train students, as they do in other skill-short job areas such as trades?

If most tech organisations are genuinely reluctant to introduce graduate programmes and see little value in bringing graduate talent into their businesses, is our tech sector educational model flawed to begin with?

If a perception exists that graduates cannot hit the ground running or contribute to a business in a meaningful way once they have graduated, is a traditional three-year degree still relevant? The technology used and the skills required in I.T. workplaces move so rapidly that degree-qualified students could be graduating only to find the technology they have used is irrelevant.

A lack of up-to-date technology in degree-level training is likely putting employers off hiring graduates, so universities need to look at adapting the skills taught in their courses so they focus on not only the fundamentals, but also practical skills, with a focus on relevant technology to ensure their students can keep pace with the requirements of a real-life workplace.

When you look at how new educational institutes such as EnspiralDev Academy are challenging the norm with training options such as a 16-week course focused on web development, perhaps educational providers need to explore developing shorter, more hands-on courses.

It seems there are several things we could be doing collectively across the tech industry, Government, and education sector to better support tech graduates into work and help solve the increasing skills shortage.

Long term, if everyone better supported New Zealand’s graduate community, we would eventually see an overall increase in capability, and therefore an industry far less reliant on offshore capability.

Recruit I.T. works with a range of clients who are successfully employing graduates, so if you'd like to have a confidential discussion around how a graduate employee could add value to your business, or want advice on implementing a graduate career programme in your workplace, contact one of our team today.