Exploring the infinite range of tech opportunities

Issue: Volume 101, Number 9

Posted: 21 July 2022
Reference #: 1HAV69

Industry and educators are collaborating across the country to steer a more diverse group of ākonga towards technology pathways, in ways they might never have imagined – like gaming. Education Gazette explores some of the initiatives underway to expand opportunities for girls and women, and for Māori and Pacific students.

Whaia te pae tawhiti kia tata, Whakamaua te pae tata kia tina!

Explore beyond the distant horizon and draw it near, take hold of your potential so it becomes your reality!

Ākonga exploring technical wizardry at last year’s Tech21 Summit aiming to inspire Māori, Pacific and female ākonga into technology careers

Ākonga exploring technical wizardry at last year’s Tech21 Summit aiming to inspire Māori, Pacific and female ākonga into technology careers

The need to develop more opportunities for ākonga was a hot topic during TechWeek 22, and it was at the core of a panel discussion hosted by MYOB on why improving diversity is key to New Zealand’s tech sector. 

During the kōrero, Mahsa Mohaghegh, founder of SheSharp and director of women in technology at Auckland University of Technology, expressed how stereotyping and terminology can be a deterrent for women seeking to enter the world of technology.

“I think it’s really important that we take a human-centric approach. We need to rebrand technology as something that can really help people to make their life easier solving a real problem. I think by doing that, and rethinking the culture that you’re promoting, we will start seeing that more and more girls, and the next generation of our rangatahi, decide and make an informed decision about their career paths,” she says.

Gender stereotypes and their connection to traditional concepts of technology can create challenges for women wanting to enter the field, adds Mehak Mahajan, DevelopHer/Protégé developer at MYOB.

“I told one of my friends that I’ve got this opportunity with MYOB, and I want to really learn coding. His response to me was like, ‘Oh, you’re a woman and in future you’re going to have a family? Are you sure is that the industry you want to be in? It’s going to be hard to manage your family and coding, because it’s changing constantly’.”

Mehak feels attitudes such as this can create self-doubt despite the fact the tech industry can provide a great deal of flexibility to allow people to work and have families.

Diversity is something that benefits all involved, adds Mahsa.

“A lot of research is backing up evidence of the benefits of balanced diverse workplaces. They can increase productivity, efficiency, and innovation. I think this is enough evidence and reason for us to try to get to that diversity inclusion in our workplace.”

The panel also discussed barriers for Māori and Pacific people when entering the tech industry, says Malcolm Luey, policy director at Digital Boost (a free digital skills training platform of the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment). 

“Many of these groups are coming from socioeconomic populations that might be already suffering digital equity or digital inclusion issues. So, it’s about working with them to get the confidence to take that first step,” he says.

Poncho Rivera-Pavon, director of pathways at TupuToa, felt that there was a push for these students to enter more traditional fields such as being a doctor or an accountant. Having more diversity in the sector, and more role models, also gives confidence to young people to take the step when they see themselves reflected.

“Some of our interns, when they finish their internship, they come back and say, ‘It was pretty good. I saw a lot of people that look like me’. That really sways their decision to think, ‘Maybe I’ll choose this career pathway’.”

Industry experts spoke to students about their experiences during Get into Games.

Industry experts spoke to students about their experiences during Get into Games.

Empowering ākonga Māori

Empowering ākonga Māori to pursue technology careers is a passion for Duane Grace, CEO of tiaki Limited – a global SaaS company providing outstanding outcomes for Indigenous students worldwide.

The Kalinda tiaki Foundation that Duane co-founded created ‘Te Huakirangi,’ a highly innovative, personalised and industry backed programme driving ākonga Māori into technology jobs.

“We were tired of seeing the same negative statistics that haven’t changed over a lifetime. Education underachievement, income inequity and intergenerational poverty that place Māori firmly at the bottom of the heap. Everyone is focused on symptoms, and not the problem.”

The choice of technology as an employment pathway was both personal and strategic.

“We have a single KPI – to double the number of Māori in technology jobs within seven years. These are highly skilled, well paid and globally sought-after roles.” says Duane.

The programme itself delivers industry certification in kura as a preparatory stage to fulltime apprenticeship and work placement with a global technology partner.

The kura component of the programme was initiated at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani Waititi in January and three additional kura will be engaged before the end of the year. The apprenticeship runs out of the Foundation’s office in Sydney and will expand to Melbourne in December.

“We started in kura because of their unparalleled success in Māori education, their will to innovate and that identity, language and culture are embedded.

“While the programme will inevitably move into mainstream schooling, it needs to start from a position of strength.”

Those involved in the programme have significant education technology experience and Duane admitted it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

“The first course we ran like this was back in 1998 at Whitireia Polytech in Porirua, and we’ve worked with kura since with varying degrees of success. We’ve learned a lot, in particular candidate readiness – both ākonga and kura – the importance of industry backing and the lack of good quality learning resources.”

The application of those lessons is evident in success to date where Microsoft have endorsed the programme along with other global technology companies.

“This year is about validating the training model and employment pathways. With significant industry support, we are well ahead of schedule.”

Tutoring is mostly online, using tiaki’s own learning platform that identifies ākonga strengths, personalises learning and ‘engages the village’ to ensure their success. Delivery is built into the kura timetable and weekend wānanga prepare ākonga for certification exams.

“Ākonga accelerate through the programme and at their own pace, while their learning adapts in real time, and they strive to make selection for apprenticeship.”

Unique to Te Huakirangi, apprentices begin their working life with tiaki and Kalinda.

“It is critical ākonga see themselves in this space which is why they work with us for at least six months before being placed with one of our industry partners.”

Te Huakirangi is going from strength to strength, improving lives and moving fast.

As Duane put it well, “Let’s quantify failure by the day, and then decide how long you’re willing to wait.”

Gaming broadens the playing field

Get into Games is another programme seeking to broaden awareness and diversify pathways in a fast-growing sector, and it’s certainly a relatable field for young people who might have had a ‘narrower’ view of what tech is.

The initiative arose after Ministry of Education-funded vocational training schemes were put on hold due to Covid-19 and lockdowns. Instead of ‘in person’ communications, online events that connected youth to potential employers were hosted.

Alongside this was a significant growth in the gaming industry. Shaun Gear, integration advisor at Te Pae Aronui (the operations and integration arm of the Ministry), estimates there was a 40 percent increase in the sector during 2019/2020.

“We saw that this was an industry that was really resilient during Covid-19. So, we had the idea of looking at how we could run a week of events that connected schools with this industry.”

The project was also informed by TEC Drawing the Future research as to the views of young people towards employment.

“We found out that young people had quite narrow views on what jobs and careers were. We also learned that who they saw, and who they were connected to, also influenced the inspiration of what careers were out there. So, we wanted to use the gaming industry and online events as a way of broadening young people’s horizons.”

Gaming is a growing industry in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Gaming is a growing industry in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Eliminating stereotypes

One aim of Get into Games is to eliminate negative stereotypes and demystify the careers and jobs that exist within the industry. A week of events was run in 2021, funded by the Ministry and delivered by the Digital Natives Academy in Rotorua.

“We had about 8,500 young people participating, and we were quite targeted on age group. We had Years 7–9,” says Shaun.

The age group was chosen as it was felt this was a time when young people are curious and becoming more aware of the world, and of employers and different industries.

A lot of the content focused on employment, with industry experts speaking as to their success in areas such as Esports and Game design. This helped the ākonga, parents, and teachers to understand how gaming can lead to career opportunities.

“The technology that’s available are things that young people are interacting with on a daily basis, they just don’t know how they might be able to utilise that to generate some revenue in the future or a job,” adds Shaun. 

A myriad of opportunity

Given the success of last year’s events, Get into Games was held again in June this year. The event saw significant growth, with 13,345 students from 182 schools and kura across Aotearoa, and 199 teachers and parents getting involved.

The key themes were game makers, players, and digital wellbeing. 

“There are careers and jobs related to making games and developing games, then there are players. Esports is among the fastest growing sports in the world. Then there are the jobs that support that part of the industry. So, Esports coaches, nutritionists, people that put on the tournaments, tournament managers. There’s a whole myriad of jobs that sit behind each of these areas that young people may not be aware of at all,” explains Shaun.

The game development side of the industry is a major area for employment. Shaun says there are several studios in New Zealand that are developing ‘triple A’ games and exporting these. The same goes for Esports, with many support roles associated with game development.

“Whether you’re an artist or you like music, or you can write stories, or if you’re into animation or even production, there are jobs.

“If you look at games, it is not one person building a game all by themselves. It’s a team that comes together,” says Shaun.

Parents and whānau could also join in on sessions that focus on digital wellbeing. This includes looking at security, bullying, and other situations in which young people could be quite vulnerable.

“Many of these games, if they’re on the internet, are community games. There are other people that are playing alongside them [the students] – you don’t know who they are, where they are. So, it’s just about being safe.”

Session recordings are available for schools unable to attend the Get into Games events.

Not a linear pathway

Whether it’s TechWeek22, DevelopHer, Te Huakirangi, Get into Games, or any of the other successful initiatives in this space – the key takeaway is that there is no one pathway into tech, and no one type of person who can succeed in the industry.

Shaun hopes to alert students to the fact that success in the industry is not necessarily a linear pathway in which ākonga go from school, to university, to developing high end games. There are several ways in which ākonga can enter the industry and thrive. 

For more information on Get into Games, visit getintogames.nz(external link).

TechWeek22 was held in May this year. To find out more and to make sure you’re looped in for TechWeek23, head to techweek.co.nz(external link).

Digital wellbeing

Keeping ākonga safe online is an important aspect of digital technologies education.

Keeping ākonga safe online is an important aspect of digital technologies education.

There are many benefits in learning with digital technologies, but also some challenges and potential risks for students and schools.

The Digital Technology: Safe and responsible use in schools guide provides principals and teachers with the information to act confidently and in the best interests of students in digital technology.

The resource is designed to help schools:

  • understand how young people use digital technology
  • deal with or prevent problems with its use
  • understand the law on what you can and can’t do.

Digital wellbeing was also a significant theme of this year’s Get into Games event, which included a digital wellbeing session for schools and ākonga, and one for parents and teachers.

Both sessions covered information on the challenges facing young people in the digital spaces and educating them on key issues to be aware of so that they can navigate these spaces safely, while continuing their journey into digital and creative tech pathways.

Digital Natives Academy spoke to their Te Iwi Matihiko Digital Wellbeing programme. Te Iwi Matihiko helps young people, their whānau and teachers understand the positive and negative impacts that digital spaces play on our overall wellbeing.

It’s a value-based approach to digital wellbeing, which aims to introduce tamariki (9–11 years), rangatahi (12 years+) and pakeke (adults) to the key tools they will need to safely navigate social media and online gaming while they learn to understand their own wellbeing using Sir Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā Model of Health.

More information

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:34 am, 21 July 2022

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