Skills shortages a university problem

We are barely out of recession and already we are hearing of skill shortages.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

We are barely out of recession and already we are hearing of skill shortages.

Advertised technology vacancies in New Zealand are up 68 per cent on last year, while applicants for each job have more than halved. IT wages are even increasing.

Wellington-based software company Open Cloud says skills shortages are so bad, it is even looking to move overseas.

It seems that we have masses of our own people not working, yet we are importing others to do the work the jobless cannot or will not do. Something is wrong somewhere.

What are our schools, colleges and universities teaching? Why aren't they giving our employers, our countries, the skills we need?

In Britain, for example, employers complain that the young lack skills like getting up in a morning, reliability, basic literacy, manners and so on. There is also supposedly too many qualified in useless subjects such as media studies.

The cash-strapped nation is rapidly raising tuition fees, as it finds sending nearly half the kids to university a luxury it can ill afford. With the best universities about to charge 9000 pounds a year, it is hoping that this will encourage the kids to make better choices and study subjects more likely to lead to a career, in an age when many graduates cannot find work.

New Zealand went down this "user pays" path long ago, but loans and tuition fees seemed to just drive the country's graduates abroad to where the better paid jobs are, such as Australia and the UK.

So how can a country like New Zealand generate and keep the skills it needs?

I have remarked before that it is election year and despite promises to economically "catch up with Australia by 2025", the National-led government appears to have done little since it was elected in November 2008 and the Kiwi exodus over the Tasman continues by the thousand.

Even Google said that any Kiwi engineers wanting to work for the company, they would have to work in Sydney.

For once, I won't pretend to have any answers. You might think "user pays" would lead to people making the right choice, but it drives away the graduates. Meanwhile, countries can ill-afford old-style fully funded education where the kids made the choice themselves, which led to too many having the wrong skills.

If government is funding education, then surely government, as payer, should direct the schools, colleges and universities to teach what is needed to fill the gaps. But can governments pick winners?

I am open to your suggestions.

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