Chapter 13

Te Hīkoi Roa: A journey of Māori towards information technology mastery

Robyn Kāmira

IT Professionals New Zealand (and all its early configurations) has reached its 60th year. This chapter tracks a parallel trajectory that explores a Māori perspective on the journey towards information technology mastery. It celebrates Māori companies and individuals, past, present and future, who step into the frontier — who are inventing, harnessing and reaching technological goals, amidst rapid change. It also cautions us, as Māori, about how the unrelenting burden of decades of disparities creates a tenuous future for our workforce. Finally, it proposes solutions and a pathway towards technology mastery.

1960 was a pivotal year for Māori. The government commissioned the Hunn Report that, it could be argued, attracted more attention than any report before or since. It exposed the severe shortcomings of persistently flawed government policies that had negatively impacted Māori. It surveyed trends in population, land settlement and titles, housing, education, employment, health, legal differentiation, crime and other matters. Its findings, commentaries and conclusions made it clear that Māori lagged far behind Pākehā in all socio-economic indicators and were a marginalised people (Hill 2009, p. 91).

Māori hoped the report would be a way to further pursue rangatiratanga (self-determination) and socio-economic betterment. Instead, the report’s recommendations aimed to hasten the path towards assimilation and the distant end result of ‘final blending’ (Hill 2009, p. 92). It positioned Māori as incapable and dependent, and better off under the parental care of the Crown.

The Hunn Report led to a revised policy path, the ripples of which are still felt today. This had a bearing had a bearing on the way in which Māori later engaged, or not, with government-owned information systems, data and content.

By the late 1960s, alongside a growing awareness of the impact of colonisation on Māori, urban Māori protest movements emerged with political activism centred on Treaty of Waitangi grievances, Māori land rights, the Māori language, culture and racism (Royal 2005, p. 5). One of the most notable protests was in 1975 when, led by 79-year-old Dame Whina Cooper, 5000 Māori from all over the country walked the length of the North Island to the nation’s capital Wellington to present a petition signed by 60,000 people to then Prime Minister Bill Rowling (MCH 2020). It was a watershed moment that brought unprecedented levels of attention to the alienation of Māori land. It also established a method of protest that was repeated in subsequent decades (Harris 2004, p. 88).

The 1970s and 1980s also saw the emergence of what became known as the Māori Renaissance — where major claims for the historical dispossession of tribal estates were brought before the Waitangi Tribunal, the management of tribal and Māori-owned assets rearranged, a Māori-language education system established, and Māori started major industry initiatives including in fishing, aquaculture and farming. In particular, the Waitangi Tribunal became a forum for the ‘expression of much Māori protest and anger over the impact of European colonisation’ (Royal 2005, p. 5).

In the mid-to-late 1980s, the first tiny group of Māori information technology specialists was emerging from universities. They had a desire to ensure Māori people, language and worldviews would be an integral part of the technology ecosystem. They built the first fundamental tools of computing for Māori including typesets with macrons, translation tools and new technology terminology in te reo Māori (Māori language), some of which was published decades later by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (2018). These early innovators were students, sole traders or founders of small companies. Much of their work was voluntary and while their commercial model was fragile, their objective was to contribute something tangible, funded or not, that would see Māori flourish in the future.

In the meantime, the government deregulated the radio industry, selling the rights to use radio frequencies to private companies. Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo (the Wellington Māori Language Board), claimed the government’s sell-off of broadcasting spectrum amounted to theft (Gee 1989). Together, Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo and Te Kaunihera Māori o Aotearoa (the New Zealand Māori Council) challenged the spectrum sell-off and the lack of support for Māori broadcasting. The government addressed the claim in part, by funding the establishment of Māori-owned radio stations (Walker 1993) and by 1995 there were 21 iwi radio stations. That same year Te Māngai Pāho (the Māori Broadcast Funding Agency) was established.

I had barely entered university and had chosen to major in an unusual blend of computer science and Māori. My academic supervisor actively discouraged this mix saying it would not serve me professionally. A demographic study found there were four Māori in the computer science school of around 5000 students — less than one per cent. I was the only woman of that group — I was the 0.02 per cent. Inevitably, I was excluded from the data in the interests of more aesthetically pleasing graphs.

Through my studies, I came to understand that the colonialists of the early 1800s not only sought political and economic governance over land and resources but also had another victory in mind: ideology (Ryan 2020, p. 23). The knowledge systems and worldviews supporting the colonial agenda included religion, education and legislation. The goal was to supersede Māori worldviews and mechanisms for acquiring, practicing and passing on knowledge, and replace them with the colonials’ worldview. By the early 1990s, I realised a new form of colonisation was unfolding. It was digital. It was global. At first, it was like water seeping along the tiles and into the cracks, barely noticed.

After graduating, I counted five university-trained Māori IT professionals nationwide. All were self-employed and seemingly struggling to get IT jobs. Within five years, all but two had left the sector. It was somewhat isolating for me. However, as a politicised Māori and early-stage information technology professional, I asked whether my chosen field would serve or hinder Māori cultural, economic and political aspirations, or was in fact a tool of further colonisation. I began researching and writing in an attempt to raise debate and discussion, and to highlight the impact of an extreme shortage of Māori IT professionals. I had found a purpose to my profession.

I wrote the first of what was to become a series of thought pieces about Māori and technology. It was entitled, ‘Since We Became the Masters’ (Kāmira 2000), and urged Māori to step into information technology pathways towards mastery. It encouraged discussions on how we might move towards rangatiratanga in the information technology space — to increase protection and support for intellectual and cultural property, address gaps in policies that were informed by flawed data and analysis, scrutinise the ethics and privacy laws, and insert the integrity and values embedded in our cultural worldviews into information systems and the programmes they informed. I was interested in information systems held by central government ministries and agencies — where there was the greatest potential for impact on Māori.

I wanted Māori, as a critical mass, to achieve mastery in a field I believed was already affecting us in ways that were not serving us and that would increasingly fail us in the future. I hoped that in my professional future, I would bear witness both to an increasing degree of informed decision making by Māori from high-level information technology strategies, and to the granular technical decisions for every piece of data collected from and about Māori.

‘Since We Became the Masters’ proposed two things:

First, the adoption of a concept called ‘kaitiakitanga’. Marsden (2003) defines this as guardianship, preservation, conservation, fostering, protecting and sheltering. It is often a responsibility passed down through generations and encompasses the idea of continuous care.

I felt that kaitiakitanga could provide a framework for data, information and knowledge. The responsibilities of kaitiakitanga call for stronger inclusion of Māori in decisions relating to information. Specifically, the notion challenges ideas about ownership and access of data, positions Māori as first beneficiaries of information systems, and lays down a new concept of collective privacy — the protection of aggregated data about Māori, hapū and iwi — that is not addressed by current legislation.

At the time, these topics were not being widely discussed by Māori — their attention was firmly on Treaty claims and negotiations that had already begun, with the first settlement in 1989 and several iwi researching evidence or in negotiations with the Crown over that decade and beyond.

Second, ‘Since We Became the Masters’ lays down a challenge to begin a drive by Māori towards mastery of information technology so that the cultural worldview, data and outcomes could be driven and controlled by Māori.

I realise now that the paper was an attempt to predict a future that was, if I am honest, just as hopeful as it was intentional.

Soon, I was travelling overseas to information and communications tech­nology events, conferences and world summits speaking on the impact of IT on Indigenous Peoples and specifically Māori.

I founded Te Waka Wāhine Wā-Hangarau: Society of Professional Māori Women in Information Technology with a colleague. It had a membership of just four. I joined organisations including the Secretariat Community Informatics Research Network (International), a membership of researchers for citizens’ rights for global influence, and the Secretariat Global Community Networks Partnership (International), United Nations citizens’ rights globally.

The international awareness of the importance of ICTs for Indigenous Peoples and disadvantaged societies was increasing, and discussions had reached a level of maturity and sophistication. For example, the 2003 Geneva Declaration of the Global Forum of Indigenous Peoples and the Information Society stated, ‘Information and Communication Technology should be used to support and encourage cultural diversity and to preserve and promote the language, distinct identities and traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples, nations and tribes in a manner which they determine best advances these goals … We have fundamental and collective rights to protect, preserve and strengthen our own languages, cultures and identities.’ (UN, Economic and Social Council 2004).

At the same time, information and communications technology for development (ICT4D) programmes were being criticised for imposing a form of ‘computer‐mediated colonialism’ (Ray 2009). The intervention of ICT introduced ‘westernisation’ to indigenous cultures. There was tension between the desire to preserve traditional knowledge and the blending of cultures through ICT. For instance, television, radio, films and computer games had already resulted in ‘massive and continuous exposure’ of many Indigenous youth to non-indigenous cultural values and information, with little opportunity to reinforce their own cultural heritage (Resta 2011).

When Indigenous Peoples wanted to participate in the ‘information society’ there were obstacles including a lack of infrastructure, limited access to modern technologies and an urgent need for capability building. The potentials included access to new marketplaces, increased indigenous networking (regionally and internationally), and strategies to revitalise and pass on culture and languages (UN, Economic and Social Council 2004).

Groups working with the United Nations organised and developed, for example, Article 16 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It states, Indigenous Peoples have ‘the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination’ (UN General Assembly 2007). In that same decade, the New Zealand government funded the establishment of Māori Television and iwi radio stations were upgraded with equipment and technical capacity.

By then, I had already worked on several large government information tech­no­logy projects including in health, education, the environment, telecom­munications, security and state services. While some purported to serve citizens and communities, they largely served government requirements for data. I witnessed IT contractors and vendors determining whether certain data relevant to Māori would be included and if so, how. Often, it was retro-fitted into a non-Māori context, or simply discarded due to so-called technical limitations — when essentially it was a lack of motivation or interest, as it held no value for the government. It was also standard practice to deny access to raw data and the analytical process that produced reports about Māori.

A few iwi were now using simple proprietary databases for iwi registers or patient health registers. The budgets were tiny. I recall my first database for a Māori health provider had a budget of $200. There were many volunteer hours by the team to complete it. Data collection was also a challenge and it was a struggle to populate and keep the registers up to date. Back then, most people did not have Internet connections, email addresses, or access to online registration forms by which data could be easily obtained. People moved, died, were born and changed phone numbers, and so information would quickly be out of date. Staff gathered information on paper at events, called landlines or visited homes. By contrast, the government built multi-million-dollar information systems that together held (and still does) the largest collection of data about Māori.

On one occasion, I requested access to raw data for, and sourced from, my Māori clients. I was told by a government official that as they had paid for the information system including the paper the data it was printed on, they owned it. They would not release it. This closed, non-participatory regime resulted in flawed data, and inadequate analysis and reporting by government staff who were unfamiliar with the communities they reported on. The view of my Māori clients was that the government was avoiding accountability.

I wondered:

  1. What is the responsibility of government agencies that hold non-public (restricted access) information about Māori to effectively address ongoing socio-economic disparities that are confirmed by that same data — or enable access to it by Māori providers who could address it?
  2. How can Māori influence the integrity of data and reporting that non-Māori organisations use to acquire funding for programmes with outcomes that are not delivered, and that ultimately affect our collective futures?
  3. How can Māori be involved at the initiation and subsequent stages of information systems to ensure data is represented in context and data quality metrics from a Māori perspective are included? For example, health information systems that record whānau (extended family) and caregiver connections beyond two named parents, that recognise the real-life ways that whānau collectively care for their members; information systems that recognise multiple names for one person depending on the context (i.e., legal, known-as, te reo and ancestral names); and information systems that identify those for whom cultural approaches are a critical part of their well-being.

I was invited to several hui (meetings) by Māori groups to help represent their interests when government consultants sought to insert information systems into programmes in which Māori participate or obtain data for centralised repositories. Consultants wanted to build intelligence that either (1) informed the government on its design of programmes directed at Māori, or (2) provided evidence of the success or failure of Māori in sectors such as health, education, employment, justice, housing and so on. The hui were often tense and while Māori questioned the intentions of the government they felt unable to properly respond to technical consultation papers and presentations.

The process of consultation can be condescending and exploitative. As a legacy perhaps of the Hunn Report, the government still considered that it alone had the expertise to fix ‘Māori’ problems and now it was using sophisticated information systems to do this. Any agreement by Māori to provide data was not accompanied by a guarantee that the government would effectively improve the status of Māori in any of the socio-economic indicators already mentioned.

My view was that to repeatedly report on the ‘failings’ of Māori was a form of systemic abuse. I wondered whether more control by Māori of information about Māori would make a difference. But, with such low representation in the IT sector, how would Māori gain an understanding of how information systems could serve our needs. I wanted to find approaches that supported Māori as masters of information technology — even when someone else is controlling it.

Everything changed in the 2010s. Smartphones, social media, cloud, online tools, widespread connectivity and online sharing shifted the landscape in ways we had not imagined even ten years prior.

Also, a new perspective was emerging about who was responsible for perpetuating the poor access to, or negative impacts of information technologies on Indigenous Peoples. Specifically, it was noted there was a lack of ICT expertise among policymakers and a lack of legislative and policy implementations to support longer term ICT initiatives (Resta 2011, p. 2). The responsibility to remedy this was clearly being aimed at governments.

The world of technology in general had burst open for Māori and there seemed to be a proliferation of new technology programmes and entrepreneurial support. However, the obstacles that hampered other Indigenous Peoples continued to apply to Māori too — inequality on numerous fronts, resulting in poorer health outcomes, lower educational achievements, and greater material hardship (OECD 2019). As a result, a clear digital divide was identified. Barriers such as poor connectivity, poor or absent basic infrastructure such as electricity and hardware, high costs, inadequate bandwidth, unreliable service, and limited budgets for IT maintenance and life cycle persisted (Borrero 2016, p. 6).

By now, I was a seasoned IT professional with two small technology companies, and had built and sold a web development business. I had sat on several boards and advisory groups and was advising the government on technology matters. While I had led several technology projects, I could find no Māori developers. I had also moved into telecommunications projects and established a drone tech company to explore how we could deliver medical supplies to remote Māori communities. This required a combination of technical, regulatory and telecommunications research. While there were a few Māori drone operators mostly taking videos for clients, there were none I could find who were undertaking research and development, and who could join our projects.

Throughout this, I was also volunteering extensively for Māori, marae and iwi IT projects.* I sometimes brought together volunteer teams but of around 20–30 volunteers, only one was Māori and only available for one project. I could see no Māori IT professionals coming through the pipeline. There was no pipeline.

* For example, ‘Mitimiti On The Grid’ was a digital enablement project for an isolated rural marae (RBI1, telecommunications, fibre broadband, wrap-around support for upskilling, technical support, purchasing, remote management, etc).

It was in this decade that I joined the Institute of Information Technology Professionals (ITP), because prospective clients and others had difficulty believing a Māori woman was an IT professional and didn’t hesitate to inform me of this fact. The ITP served the purpose of clarifying this for them. I also wanted to be around my professional peers and contribute to my sector in the ways that I felt I could add value. I eventually became a board member at the time when Māori technology company owner Ian Taylor was chair. He was the ITP’s first Māori board member and chair. In 2020 I was privileged to have been selected as deputy chair of ITP. Both Ian and I agree that if we believe the IT profession is a viable place for Māori to be, we have to step out and be seen.

Today, we are barely in the 2020s and already the accelerated pace of technology change and opportunity seems at warp speed. This, I believe, is not only due to the rapid development cycles in technology in general but also the COVID-19 pandemic has created an impetus to develop technologies that provide insights, keep people safe, help them work remotely, protect borders, reduce costs and increase efficiencies to alleviate new pressures on businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also worsened some outcomes for Māori and deepened existing disparities (Barber et al 2021, p. 81). It exposed that Māori are clearly over represented in digital exclusion. For example, Māori account for 20 per cent of digitally excluded Citizens Advice Bureau clients, and this disproportionate impact is also a concerning indication that the digital transformation of government services is not serving the needs of people equally (CAB 2020, p. 5). The barriers as a result of government information and services being online include:

  1. a lack of access to computer or other appropriate device, or to reliable and affordable internet access,
  2. limited digital literacy where many people lack the skills or confidence to carry out tasks online and need assistance to navigate digital processes,
  3. cost, not just having and maintaining a computer and internet connection, but barriers when payments are expected to be made online, and
  4. general literacy difficulties making online information and processes inaccessible (CAB 2020, p. 5).

Many government agencies have scaled back non-digital channels, reducing access to paper-based resources, and in some cases making digital the only option. Examples are Immigration New Zealand closing public counter services and ceasing printing of visa-related forms. The Department of Internal Affairs stopping the printing of passport renewal forms. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment making the system for requesting employment mediation an online process with no accessible paper-based option. The difficulties many people face making use of RealMe, the government-operated online authentication service, including being told by a government department not to use Gmail to register, to avoid using a smartphone or device and instead use a ‘proper computer’. This means that people who are already negatively impacted by social inequality are at risk of being further disadvantaged (CAB 2020, p. 6). All of these decisions were at least in part made by senior IT professionals who were at the decision-making tables.

There are two dominant economic risks that face Māori today — the impacts of which will be social as well as economic. First, the $68.7 billion plus Māori economy is heavily reliant on the primary sector — farms, forests and fish (RBNZ 2021). That sector is not yet poised to respond to the opportunities and risks of technology disruption. Second, high-value jobs and skills are necessary to withstand future trends in work, and while recent figures show Māori are increasingly being employed in high-skill jobs the participation rate overall is still low (RBNZ 2021).

Back in what is clearly a privileged world of IT, several government-owned information systems continue to gather millions of data-points about Māori with no discernible dent in positive outcomes as a result of the insights that data provides. The ‘lag’ that was identified in the Hunn Report in 1960 may look a little different but it remains six decades on.

Where then, can Māori demonstrate mastery?

It appears Māori may be heading towards mastery in selected areas such as digital content creation and more recently, data analytics driven by a recent data ‘sovereignty’ movement that has evolved from the intellectual and cultural property movement in the 1990s. However, we are not effectively exporting or competing on the world stage in these areas and there are only a few examples of viable businesses able to meet a demand for these skills or services. A critical mass has yet to emerge.

Anecdotally, there is still a severe shortage of Māori IT professionals. The ITP would define the profession as having a recognised curriculum, professional standards and pathways, and certifications. For example, holding a degree that contains IT-related papers at least to the second year of study, and to have at least 4 years’ full-time IT experience, or at least ten years’ full-time experience as an IT practitioner.

This means there are few Māori who could (or would) be involved in decisions that fulfil the concepts suggested in ‘Since We became The Masters’. That is, kaitiakitanga as a framework for data, information and knowledge and a stronger inclusion of Māori in decisions relating to information — specifically, ownership and access of data, Māori as first beneficiaries of information systems and information sourced from or about Māori, the concept of collective privacy, and the protection of aggregated data about Māori, hapū and iwi not addressed by current legislation.

There is no comprehensive study that quantifies, or measures the progress of Māori in the information technology sector. Reports and studies tend to be ad hoc and based on unclear and inconsistent variables. The definition of information technology is also not widely agreed. For example, in an isolated example, the Ministry of Education say there were 145 Māori students completing bachelor degree level qualifications in information technology in 2019, and 17 in higher degree programmes. In computer science specifically there were 795 Māori students. But the data does not provide granularity or information on their definitions. It does not track progress beyond this snapshot. There are no figures on pass rates or how many enter the IT profession after their studies. It is not possible to confidently comment on mastery with data like this.

What we can’t measure, we can’t improve upon

There are two initiatives worth mentioning that provide a regular measurement of Māori-owned technology companies:

The Technology Investment Network Report (TIN) quantifies the economic significance of New Zealand’s globally-focused technology industry by capturing key data on the country’s top 200 revenue earning, high-tech companies.4 I partnered with TIN to initiate the technology investment analysis of Māori-owned tech companies from 2017 onwards and to publish the findings in their TIN Report. I was interested in a regular, consistent and robust measurement of Māori-owned companies doing well in the industry. TIN identified that Māori-owned companies were present in their top 200 companies.

In its first year 2017, five Māori-owned companies were identified in the top 200 companies with an estimated $94 million in revenue. Waikato Milking Systems was the highest ranked in 38th place, followed by Straker Translations, Sentient Software, Animation Research and Whānau Tahi all in the NEXT100 (i.e., the top 101 to 200 companies). At the time, New Zealand’s top 200 technology companies recorded $10 billion in combined revenues. In 2018, these same Māori-owned companies contributed nearly $98m in revenue, up $4.1m on the previous year. In 2019, their total revenues rocketed up to $133.5m — an increase of 20.9 per cent on the previous year. Comparatively, revenue for all of the TIN200 companies increased by just 10.2 per cent. The Māori-owned company growth rate that year was twice that of the TIN group overall. Also, Straker Translations had now solidly entered the top 100 companies joining Waikato Milking Systems. Newcomer to the NEXT100 was The Instillery. By 2020, the combined revenue was $162m, up 21 per cent from the previous year. Comparatively, revenue for the TIN200 companies overall increased by 8.1 per cent (Technology Investment Network 2017–20).

New Zealand’s Hi-Tech Awards celebrate our most successful high-tech companies and individuals. Originally launched in 1994, the awards process determines how well the nominated companies meet financial, export and intellectual property thresholds. Today, the awards recognise several technology industries including electronics, software, biotechnology, creative, digital media and telecommunications. Its Māori category is in its fifth year. Its winners have included a diverse range — Emergency Q, Robotics Plus, Straker Translations, Biolytix and Precision Seafood Harvesting.

The Hi-Tech Awards and TIN Reports provide ways of recognising mastery. Both measure and track upward progress and set thresholds that encourage Māori-owned companies to reach higher, to engage in healthy competition, and to accelerate their performance. Both also show a strong and diverse pipeline of up-and-coming Māori-owned companies in the technology sector.

In 2021, with the assistance of Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development), I established a pilot called Tech Masterclass Aotearoa to provide industry online courses for small Māori organisations to help reduce the risk of IT failure and subsequent loss of investment, time, credibility and opportunity. It aims to equip staff of organisations that do not have in-house IT expertise, with a range of skills to help them lead technology projects. My role is to build and deliver the course, and provide one-on-one coaching to support learners. Three dominant Māori values support the success of the learners — mātauranga, mohiotanga and manaakitanga (knowledge, information and duty of care).

Interestingly, several learners in the first cohort were in middle management roles and displayed some knowledge and experience that IT professionals might be expected to have. While they would not necessarily meet the current criteria for ITP membership, with the addition of strategic professional development, they could. The feedback from these learners, indicates that the online course provides knowledge and structure in areas with which they are only partly familiar (I call this backfill), and for some, it helps confirm they are on the right track. With the addition of sustained and strategic knowledge and learning interventions, I believe some of these learners would step onto a more structured pathway towards IT mastery.

What of the future?

The speed and scale of upcoming technological disruption risks widespread unemployment and growing inequality. It is a social and political challenge as much as it is a business or technical one. The ‘future of work’ is not a description of what might happen in the future. It is here now. To be now-future-fit, Māori need to be adaptive enough to respond and reorganise around rapid changes — and cultivate the ability to do that within our workforces — starting now.

We know that automation and artificial intelligence are rapidly putting large labour market segments at risk of redundancy or profound change. Our world is increasingly becoming a hybrid human-digital workforce, so we need to understand how to construct and reconstruct our Māori workforce in the years ahead.

Ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi. This well-known whakataukī (saying), tells us that once the old fishing net is worn, it is put aside to make way for the new fishing net. As our elders and leaders age and pass on, the voids they leave are filled by younger people who provide continuity. There is a handover process to ensure the knowledge already built is not lost to the next generation. Then, in fresh hands, it is enhanced to better suit changing contexts. The handover from the old to the new net often happens incrementally, seamlessly, from one person to the next, every day, in moments and in degrees. Threads are carefully looped and knotted together creating the net. Then one day we notice someone has stepped back and another has stepped forward.

The term ‘rangatahi’ is commonly used today to describe teenagers up to early 20s. However, this is a contemporary interpretation. Instead, I have often heard it used relative to the speaker. For example, a person in their 80s may refer to a 60-year-old as rangatahi, who in turn may refer to a 35-year-old as rangatahi. We have mistakenly thought that funnelling all the learning opportunities and responsibilities for the future towards our rangatahi, especially technology learning, is the way to ensure a guaranteed future workforce. Yet, 40 years of Māori youth programmes have not created a magical pipeline into resilient high-value jobs. Decades of poor statistics on Māori speak to the wisdom of this. And separating rangatahi from the rest of the whānau might seem like an effective way to give them tailored attention but it also isolates them, denies them the potential benefits of the experiences and support of a community of people older than them, and teaches them a form of ageism that does not exist in our culture.

Today, we like to provide ‘technology’ courses in the hope of creating a measurable, positive change that will re-position Māori in the future. Like the 40 years of courses before them, they are still mostly short and limited to beginner-level skills. Outcomes are rarely published and there is no compelling evidence that they produce jobs, viable technology businesses, clear professional technology pathways, or cognitive capabilities that lead to any of the previous outcomes, or a better life.

For decades, the government has supported a narrow view on what they think Māori can do (mostly the trades and arts), or cannot do (highly technical or scientific subjects) and supported this with funding strategies that restrict anything more ambitious. We have inadvertently ‘pigeon-holed’ people and denied them a greater potential. For example, programmes often favour skills related to content creation including animation, video production, graphic design, music production, or fun activities such as robotics, perhaps some simple coding. Learners use existing tools and so are taught to be consumers of other people’s technology rather than inventors. We hope one or two might build the next social media platform, AI, machine learning, or blockchain technologies, or create a proliferation of patentable innovations. The graduates of these programmes cannot compete with the army of highly-trained technical experts coming out of places like China and India. They rarely go on to create sustainable businesses or step onto professional pathways. And they rarely become the next inventor. The government has made huge investments on a whim and wasted resources that should be more purposefully spent.

There needs to be a stronger rationale for how programmes are funded. This means funders and policy-makers need to upskill so their strategies are more aptly aligned with current and near-future work requirements. Likewise, Māori also need to upskill so we are clear about what it will take to build a future Māori workforce.

This involves:

  1. analysing data that identifies skills and capability needs, future gaps and surpluses in the workforce,
  2. developing responses including recruitment, training and specific programmes that drive skills and capabilities into those areas, and
  3. decisively moving beyond entry level programmes and creating pathways into higher-level skills over multiple years provided by industry, and while people are working.

If we plan for just three cohorts — youth, existing workforce and IT-specific cohorts — then a strategy towards mastery might be shaped as follows:

Youth cohort

Considering immediate, mid and long-term workforce requirements, youth may be best placed in mid and long-term strategies. This is because their real learning and development towards mastery is unlikely to happen in a three-month beginners course and their strongest financial contributions to their future families and the economy may still be years away. They have time to learn, mature and master their chosen fields. We should give it to them.

Existing workforce cohort

For our existing workforce (employed or not), no matter the age, we need to consider the responsibilities they have to provide for themselves and those who depend on them for their homes, food, education, health and wellbeing. There are generic technology skills that can be applied into sectors that many Māori already occupy (i.e., primary sector, trades, arts and hospitality). Employers can develop their existing talent by incrementally introducing relevant and adjacent technology skills that add value to their jobs and prepare them for upcoming disruptions. For example, training checkout operators basic setup, maintenance and trouble-shooting of automated checkouts, training construction workers on basic CAD design and robotics, or teaching hospitality staff basic data analytics.

IT-specific cohorts

For others like those identified through the Tech Masterclass Aotearoa courses as having already gathered some IT skills, or those wanting a more concentrated and tailored skills pathway, we could be providing fast-track industry learning that leads to clearly identified immediate and near-future skills and capability needs not covered in the previous cohorts.

The innovators and inventors amongst Māori could potentially emerge from any of these cohorts.

This deliberate strategy to build a critical mass of specialists will lead to mastery. We have a challenge that has been in front of us for a long time. It is unacceptable to allow it to continue. There is a lot to do and we must do it.

May we seek to light up the pathway for generations to come. As we say, Ki te Whai-ao, ki te Ao-marama — To the glimmer of dawn, to the bright light of day. Tihewa mauri ora!

Robyn Kāmira (Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri) is the deputy president of the Institute of IT Professionals. Robyn has an IT strategy, project management and systems background and has provided support to several government, iwi and community groups. She has sat on several central government advisory boards relating to technology and is founder of Paua Interface Ltd and Incredible Skies Ltd. She is a lead judge in New Zealand’s Hi-Tech Awards and a member of the Māori Economic Development Advisory Board. Robyn holds a Postgraduate Diploma — Information Systems Management; a Bachelor of Social Sciences — Computer Science, Māori; Certificate of Competency, RPAS Endorsed Multi-Rotor (‘Wings Badge’), Part 101/102; and was a Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) award recipient for three years running.


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