Although South Africa leads the rest of the continent when it comes to adopting and promoting information technologies, there is a significant skills shortfall when it comes to the people who work in this sector. South Africa is falling behind its peers in Africa, notably Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt, who are putting greater emphasis
on the contribution that technology plays in economic growth and social development.
This was one of the findings from a survey of skills and trends in the South African Information & Communications Technology sector [PDF] carried out by the Wits University's Joburg Centre for Software Engineering. The survey aimed to identify the most pressing skills needs from the corporate perspective, as well as the sort of qualifications that practitioners in the ICT field possess. says Adrian Scholfield.
Respondents included academia, managers, directors as well as employers in the ICT sector around the country.
One of the key findings is that there is a huge demand for ICT skills, with Information Security professionals the most sought after in the industry. Other skills in great demand are Network Infrastructure, Software as a Service/cloud computing, database development, and application development. Career Junction South Africa, for example, has 4 274 Information Technology jobs listed on their site, indicating that there is indeed a skills gap in the South African economy.
Recent incidents involving hacks and information breaches have caught firms unawares, even as more businesses are taking their operations online. These vulnerabilities need to be addressed, and some are looking to hire individuals with infosec-related skills to help protect their data.
The skills gap highlighted the impact of this skills shortage on the local economy, with 43% of the executives surveyed revealing that it has a major effect on their business and a further 29% expressing that it was threatening the viability of their businesses.
As for the practitioners, corporates are looking to hire individuals who have undertaken graduate studies, as well as those with internationally recognized and industry-associated certificates. In teaching their employees, they prefer to use e-learning tools, knowledge-sharing with academic institutions, and on-site rather than offsite learning.
The new digital age has made it possible for anyone with a computer and internet access to learn how to code. websites such as Codecademy and Udemy allow for users to learn coding languages and how to create their own sites. South African organisations such as BornToCode, ProjectCodeX, KidsWhoCode and Code4CT are teaching people how to code and igniting the love for technology into the communities.
The survey highlights the failure of the South African government to introduce technology from a very young age. Mainstreaming ICT education will go a long way towards enabling school learners to gain basic knowledge and computer literacy, and this will help close the skills gap experienced in industry.
The survey identifies poor leadership as one of the factors hindering the spread and adoption of ICTs, meaning that the skills necessary for their adoption are often neglected in policy-making.
To remedy the situation, the government needs to prioritize the adoption of policies to incentivize ICT education, as well as making it easier for people with ICT skills to find employment in a more favourable business environment.
The ICT industry cannot afford to wait for the government to provide solutions to the skills crisis. The industry will have to own, and solve, the crisis through an ecosystem of scalable initiatives. A culture of “learn from one another, and train twice as many” is required. With GDP decreasing by 1.2% in the first quarter of 2016, far-reaching interventions are needed to restore economic activity in the country, and ICT is the most likely vehicle to drive this.