Bring on the boot camps

That perennial issue of skill shortages in New Zealand has reared its head again, and one way to solve the issue could be boot camps.

Just weeks after the issue hit the headlines, we now hear tales of $10,000 bounties and the country again in dire need of skilled digital workers.

Xero, that booming accountancy software company whose record share price last week gave the company a $1.6 billion valuation, has announced that it will pay new recruits a $10,000 bonus.

The company has recruited a couple of hundred in recent years, doubling in size, and now it plans to take on 200-300 more this year.

The move follows Google New Zealand's boss Tony Keusgen saying that the country is "crying out" for skilled ICT workers.

Such a shortage, he told a recent conference, will prevent New Zealand from making the most of its ultrafast broadband investment and other technological infrastructure.

Keusgen also said that to help out, Google was working with the University of Auckland and running courses to help people get these new digital jobs.

Other New Zealand firms, like Orion Healthcare and the website Trade Me, are also suffering from skills shortages.

Offering cash incentives will send the right market signals in due course, and I am sure the stories in the papers about them will have been noted by many, who might now see ICT as a career option.

But it usually takes time to train people, and such bounties might create an upward spiral in wages that could hamper the country's competitive software sector. It is also a beggar thy neighbour policy where Xero gains at the expense of other software companies.

Last month, I suggested scholarships and bonding , and now we have another potential solution known as "boot camps".

These are intensive courses that can train people up in a matter of weeks.

The linked example costs around $13,000, and already, its graduates are moving into careers paying double what they earned before.

This seems a far more cost-effective option all round.

University and similar ICT courses can cost the earth, and the prospect of a student loan running into tens of thousands of dollars often acts as a deterrent to study. "Boot camps" seem a way to keep a lid on this debt, and is also much quicker.

Sending some of the more skilled unemployed on such courses might be worthwhile for the taxpayer, too.

I have an unemployed mate, a former call centre staffer, who would be ideal for such a course, especially if Work and Income New Zealand paid for his course.

Indeed, the "boot camp" philosophy has already been adopted in other areas.

Nearly every gym in existence seems to offer their own "boot camp" experience, claiming to get you fit within a matter of weeks.

Let's see these IT "boot camps" flourish in New Zealand. That way, we too can also have a fitter and stronger ICT sector, and a healthier New Zealand economy all-round.