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Global talent pool

Google New Zealand Country Director Caroline Rainsford muses on the opportunities – and risks – to the tech sector of borders reopening.

type
Article
author
By Zilla Efrat, freelance journalist
date
17 Dec 2021
read time
5 min to read
Three swimmers, swimming in a multiple lane pool

Struggling to find technology talent? You are not alone. Even a top tech brand like Google is finding it difficult to get the skills it needs.

This is not a new problem at all, says Caroline Rainsford MInstD, Google’s country director for New Zealand.

“The war for tech talent and the challenges around tech talent has been going on for the last decade.

“The covid-19 pandemic has just accelerated it threefold and has slightly changed the dynamics in organisations thinking about talent shortages. If we were to go back five years, when we talked about this, it was the big tech companies and tech start-ups we were talking about. Now you have almost every company trying to evolve into a tech company and facing these challenges.”

Long before covid-19 struck, businesses were starting to leverage technology to understand their consumers and use data to improve business.

“In 2019, I talked about the existential threat that this created for businesses. I think I described it as the digital divide between companies that were on the wrong side or right side of this,” she says.

Then came March 2020 and that digital divide grew between companies that were able to adapt during covid-19 and those that weren’t.

Tech skills shortage

Rainsford believes the skills in short supply fall into two buckets.

The first she describes as technical software skills. They include software engineers, data scientists and people who understand machine learning and artificial intelligence. There’s also a huge demand for development resources proficient across cloud, automation, location software and other areas.

“We are also seeing a need for what Google describes as creative technical people who have slightly nuanced skills in being able to understand the different applications of technology and data.”

The second bucket is for support roles – people who understand the customer experience or are user interface designers or good product owners and managers. This category also includes project managers with solid experience in running infrastructure or tech migration projects.

“Then there’s a lot of need for analytical people – those who understand how to mine the data and get the most important insights from that,” says Rainsford.

The resulting competition for skills is driving up pay packets.

“Without a doubt, if you are a computer science graduate coming out of university anywhere in the world right now, you will be able to command a really strong starting salary,” she says.

“But it’s not always just about salary. I still think that New Zealand businesses can have success in acquiring strong tech talent thinking beyond salary.”

Rainsford encourages businesses to think about tapping into the global freelance economy and the role that M&A can play in acquiring talent.

“Also, as a board, you should ensure that the organisation is really clear on what are those top 2% of the roles that you need to invest in for the future, and also ensure that they have the investment needed to build it out,” she says.

“In the short term, that might involve partnering and looking at having offshore pools of talents, but I would far rather see boards encouraging that long-term investment in their talent strategy.”

“Without a doubt, if you are a computer science graduate coming out of university anywhere in the world right now, you will be able to command a really strong starting salary…”

Table stakes

Rainsford talks to businesses about what she describes as the “table stakes of talent”.

Firstly, they need a clear talent strategy that has a long-term vision and some short-term table stakes, she says.

Short-term table stakes include having a good compensation and benefits package and an approach to hybrid working.

“You have to show that you are open to experimenting and iterating with what the future of work and a hybrid workplace is going to look like,” says Rainsford.

 “Our research shows that 95% of tech talent is expecting some form of hybrid work in the future. Strong tech talent won’t even look at an organisation, in my opinion, if you don’t have that.”

Beyond that, Rainsford says companies need to have a strong vision and a purpose that aligns with the talent they are talking to.

“If you are trying to attract talent, you better be damn sure you know how your unique employee differentiators in terms of the market because talent has a lot of options these days,” she adds.

But while many businesses are caught up in how they attract talent, Rainsford says retaining the talent you have is just as crucial.

“This is really important for me at Google. Increasingly, I can’t take for granted that the incredible Google team that we have in New Zealand and Australia is going to stay,” she says.

“So how do I ensure I lead our leaders to be really thinking about retention and investing in meaningful career development and training? And then how do we make sure they feel a clear alignment to our values and purpose as a company?

“It’s about ensuring you are spending a lot of time on career development and coaching but, certainly for me now, it’s about making sure that we are creating the right environment - and by that I mean deciding what flexible working looks like at Google."

“It’s around things like how you put in place training programmes for your employees as they come into the organisation so that they can do their day jobs but also participate in training programmes that develop them on the side.”

Upskill

Rainsford believes that companies should also start thinking about how to reskill or upskill their workforce.

“I still see some organisations just grappling with what appears to be an insurmountable challenge around reskilling people who may be doing some quite menial work into the digital skills area. But they should take a really long-term approach with this,” she says.

“It’s around things like how you put in place training programmes for your employees as they come into the organisation so that they can do their day jobs but also participate in training programmes that develop them on the side.

“That might not pay off for five-plus years, but you are slowly embedding tech training into the career development and training curriculum of the organisation.”

Rainsford says companies also need to think about tech apprenticeships, internships and how they create more pathways for people considering a tech future.

“Apprenticeships are a really cool way where you can get a diverse array of talent out of, say, school and bring them into your organisation and train and develop them and give them an exposure to different aspects of technology,” she says.

“Then you help them to look at a pathway like, maybe, joining a polytechnic or doing some study in computer science or data analytics and things like that.

“Some companies are really embracing that. Google is certainly hoping to roll out a future tech apprenticeship programme in New Zealand in coming years.”

More broadly, Rainsford believes that the government, in partnership with the private sector, needs to be more focused on embedding digital skills into education curriculums.

“We are on that journey, but it is nowhere where it needs to be,” she says. “We can also invest a lot more as a country in supporting micro-credentials and people who want to upskill so that they can do that while still working or earning while they learn.”

Opening borders

Rainsford believes the challenge to attract technology skills is still going to be there when borders open.

“Certainly, the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) process has made it a lot harder to bring in tech talent,” she says.

“In June, we announced that we are starting to put engineering presence for Google on the ground in New Zealand. It’s been really challenging with the borders being closed and MIQ restrictions.

“But it’s not just the borders. We still have work to do on our immigration policies… There are a lot of discrepancies in terms of what roles are deemed to be unique skills. You can have a similar role that gets rejected. There are some anomalies there.”

Another challenge, says Rainsford, has been around visas and getting the families of new hires into the country.

When the borders re-open, Rainsford fears that New Zealand may also be at risk of losing talent overseas.

“Companies these days are now thinking about tech talent as being a global talent pool.”

For example, she says capital is readily available for start-ups on the west coast of the US and a lot of investment is going “aggressively” after tech talent from a global pool.

“Our experience has been similar to every other business in New Zealand at the moment,” says Rainsford.

“The New Zealand government has been incredibly supportive of our ambition to bring an engineering hub to New Zealand.

“We have started on that journey. I am pleased to say that we have our first engineering presence on the ground in New Zealand, but as I have said, it’s been challenging.” 

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