RPA doesn’t need a separate course at university. It’s simply a new role within IT.
The media reports are wrong: New Zealand doesn’t have a technology skills shortage.
Now that I’ve got your attention, let me clarify. We don’t have a skills shortage so much as a shortage of people trained and experienced in the technologies which are exploding here and now.
As the GM of delivery for a robotics/business process automation specialist. I’m responsible for making sure we have enough skilled developers, business analysts and project managers for upcoming projects.
Currently, over three-quarters of my team are developers, and we’re looking to grow by 20 to 40 per cent in the coming year.
Most of my team are not originally from New Zealand.
Let’s be clear: I’d prefer to hire locally, purely from a time scale perspective.
It takes a long time to bring someone in from overseas. You’re looking at around three to six months, particularly from countries like India, Singapore and the Philippines where many of our team come from.
Many are required to give three months’ notice and working through immigration takes three to four months as well.
But RPA is such a new area that there are not enough people locally, who have hands on experience working with these tools.
The biggest barrier to finding new team members is people’s understanding of what we are doing.
There’s no shortage of technical people in New Zealand. There is, however, a shortage of people who are trained and experienced with RPA tools.
And it’s not a problem unique to the RPA space – though it is compounded by the newness, and the rapid growth and change RPA is undergoing. I saw it in my previous role in software testing.
The challenge ahead
RPA isn’t complicated for someone with technical understanding to pick up. If you come from a development background or technical testing background, RPA is more about picking up a new toolset and some concepts around it than a whole new avenue of study.
But here’s the issue: It can be hard to attract those people and convince them to take a step back in order to pick up something new which longer term could be very, very beneficial for their career. Because it may well be a step back, at least initially. You’re asking someone to leave a career where they’re experienced, comfortable, have saleable skills – and likely well paid – and asking them to take a punt at something completely new.
It’s challenging. But it can be worth it in the long run. Those that have joined the RPA movement talk about the variety and challenge on a client site, or creating automation pieces internally or externally, testing and the success of running an automation piece without any glitches and seeing the direct impact of providing hours back to a business by freeing up people from those repetitive mundane tasks.
For now, however, for us at least, it’s a catch-22 situation.
There are only a small number of RPA providers in New Zealand currently. We need experienced people because when you’re working in consulting services, it’s hard to spend a long time investing in people before getting them out working with clients.
The challenge for me is having the ability to train new team members and having the right mix of clients who can help me provide the team with the necessary hands on experience.
Automation and RPA are getting a lot of airtime at the moment and many Kiwi organisations are trying to utilise the technologies. It means there’s high demand for RPA specialists and that a lot more companies are keen to get involved in the industry.
Further, that means much more competition for people in this market and my team are getting shoulder tapped left, right and centre by other companies wanting local talent.
The secret weapon for retaining staff
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to foster a culture where people feel like they are part of something that has a great, positive future – not just for themselves, but for the wider business market as well. The team here know they have the ability to have a very big impact on what that future is.
I know that culture is not something that can be prescribed or forced. We don’t ‘implement’ good culture. It grows organically as a result of the actions that feed it. Our job as leaders is to respect our people and their abilities and remove barriers to allow them the bandwidth to try new things in a safe environment.
People are making a conscious decision to stay with us when there are growing opportunities both in New Zealand and overseas.
Because of our size and specialist nature of our services, we can create opportunities for people to get hands on experience with technologies that they might find hard to get in a larger business. We are frequently approached by people who want to work in this field but aren’t being given access to the opportunities by their current employers.
And our team know it’s not just about RPA – which is a rapidly growing opportunity – but the ability to get involved in other intelligent automation projects and complementary technologies, which are also expanding exponentially.
We have a recent example where a need was identified in a client site which led to us supporting the implementation of an advanced analytics and visualisation platform. We’re nimble and we can respond quickly to opportunities and changes in the market where those opportunities are complementary to our existing business
The education conundrum
I do believe there is scope for improvement on the education front, but it’s not the education so much as raising the awareness of new technologies such as RPA and the opportunities they present for graduates.
RPA doesn’t need a separate course at university. It’s simply a new role within IT. Graduates coming into RPA have the same skills and training as someone going into a developer role or a testing role.
We need to raise awareness of RPA, putting it front of mind for students so they understand it’s a position and an avenue they can pursue is still necessary.
Quanton MD and founder Garry Green spends time talking to graduate students letting them know about the great potential opportunities awaiting them in RPA.
Our size has allowed us to establish a graduate programme which we now have plans to grow, creating opportunities for New Zealand’s young people to enter the sector.
And I’d happily grow the programme further. Just like I’d happily take on developers or those with the technical mindset from other disciplines that lends itself very well to RPA.
Archie Moore is GM delivery for Quanton
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