The importance of ICT skills in South Africa is becoming ever clearer as they diminish, writes Haseena Parak, director at Human Capital Institute.

Across the world, companies are outsourcing their ICT needs to offshore companies or importing cheap skills to handle specialised jobs. Having neglected to create proper intern programmes, our existing ICT skills base is getting older and we must now complete with the rest of the world for resources.
There is a small window of opportunity to create some balance. However, if we don't build the necessary skills now, we risk losing them forever.
While offshore outsourcing is not yet a local trend, local companies are already feeling the impact of not building ICT skills timeously. Over the last 10 years there has not been enough skills development in the ICT industry, especially not specialised skills such as business intelligence, ERP and information management. Rather, companies have found it easier to pay exorbitant salaries to poach skills. This has come back to bite us.
Our current skills base is aging and young professionals are leaving for more lucrative opportunities overseas. In fact, there is a faster outflow than inflow of ICT skills in South Africa. And who can blame young professionals when they can earn 350 euros or 500 pounds per hour overseas compared to the R500 per hour they earn locally – in addition to picking up experience on new systems in stimulating environments.
This situation is deteriorating daily. In fact, one UK resource company we work with is now exclusively recruiting from South Africa.
A hybrid of in-house and outsourced (or bodyshop) skills are being used by local companies with cheap specialist skills being imported from India and Malaysia to fill the gaps. However, there is little skills transfer taking place and these jobbers leave when their contracts are up. This leaves us with a local skills base that is stagnant and shrinking as demand grows.
If we postpone much longer, we will not have enough skills to incubate new talent.
Worldwide, developed countries are outsourcing their requirements offshore – in fact, some are not even sure where their systems reside. Thus there is general dependence on service providers to build and access the necessary skills. In South Africa organisations tend to keep business critical systems in-house and outsource more esoteric requirements. Rather than relying on ICT consultants and vendors, these companies must also begin to invest in ensuring continuity.
The only solution is to start an active intern programme. For every three or four active consultants we need at least 10 interns. The talent is here to make this possible. ICT consultants and service providers build these skills as a necessity. Vendors build the skills to support their product in the local market. Oracle is one company that has taken up this challenge and of the 90 new interns they took in, 70 were taken up before internships were over – a clear reflection of demand.
Business, ICT companies and vendors must now work together to build a solid skills base.
Specialist skills development can be done in a number of ways. Two of our larger clients have, for example, as part of their contract with institute, requested that we build the BI skills they need for future in-house support. This we are doing by offering internships which give candidates on-the-job experience and allow them to immediately take up positions with these corporates.
Building a broader pool of specialists has a lot to do with the quality of courses available, however. Looking only at BI development, there are any number of courses exist that claim to give students the necessary skills.
Our own investigations have shown that there is nothing that meets the functional requirements of the job of the BI specialist at international standards, however. At university level, for example, information management courses give general information on the systems needed to run a business and how to select a specific product for finances or production, etc.
In South Africa, BI specialists thus gain exposure though the database environment and through vendors. This is a mixed blessing as these individuals acquire only that vendor's best practice, which must be weighted against the various merits and weaknesses of that particular product. Recognising that a gap exists in the market, institute undertook to find and initiate a solution that would meet the larger goals of corporate South Africa in terms of building specialist BI skills that can be accurately gauged. institute has entered into an agreement with The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI), an internationally recognised organisation that offers a vendor neutral Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP) course. Tailored to South African requirements, the university course will offer two levels of certification: Practitioner Level and Mastery Level.
A short course will also be offered for CIOs and ICT managers, laying the foundation for building BI centres of excellence and implementing BI initiatives that work. Examples of course include how to calculate ROI on a BI implementation and what is needed for a BI implementation to be successful.
The BI University is set to launch in mid 2007 and will function as a separate entity from institute. We hope that what we are doing will act as an example to industry. South Africa has the talent necessary to build a strong ICT skills base. We need to nurture it and provide the necessary vehicle to enable adequate development, however.