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Supplying talent on demand

A few weeks ago, Immigration New Zealand included ‘other spatial scientist’ as a new job classification in the country’s Long-Term Skills Shortage List (LTSSL). The new job is a short-term solution to an impending skills shortage at a time when the industry is experiencing increasing demand for geospatial information and services.

What the new classification represents is an opportunity for qualified immigrants since the local market lacks the skill sets the economy requires. Immigrants with a degree in geography or computer science and a minimum of two years’ relevant experience in GIS applications will find it easier to qualify for a work or residence visa.

A senior GIS expert in New Zealand described the current staffing capabilities as ‘not keeping up’, and describes the situation as ‘increasingly getting dire’.

“The challenge is in building up the capability,” he noted adding that there is need to embed geoliteracy in the school curriculum so students can consider spatial sciences as a career track once they graduate from school and enter the University.

While the new job classification aims to fill gaps to meet current industry demands, it has garnered mixed reactions from stakeholders. Some believe more needs to be done to promote awareness of GIS and various geospatial disciplines, and to make the market more competitive.

In contrast to the New Zealand situation, mapping agencies among developing countries are struggling to retain existing skilled personnel from moving to the private sector or working for other governments for better compensation.

I remember a Chief Administrator of a mapping and surveying agency bemoaning the loss of technical staff in their mapping department after having been presented with opportunities from the private sector and overseas.

“In mapping agencies, human resource policies are almost as crucial as the technologies we use. Unlike other offices, we rely on very specific technical skills so the job compensation and benefits package on offer must be at par with the private sector,” she adds.

What this situation calls for is a more supportive policy framework to help agencies with specific technical skill requirements. There is a need to establish a good foundation because losing even one technical specialist in such agencies is akin to being temporarily handicapped.

So what can governments do to ensure they can supply talent on demand? Is there really a shortage or does the talent pool simply lack the experience the industry needs?

The answer to these questions require a collaborative effort from the public and private sector to rethink policy approaches in supporting skills and manpower development in the GIS industry. Ultimately, the best solution is to strengthen and align the education curriculum with what the industry needs to create a spatially enabled society.

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