South Africa, along with the rest of the world, is finding itself in a major skills crisis – but companies can make a difference by gearing up their training programmes.
Most South Africans assume that the reasons behind the shortage of IT skills in our country stem from young professionals emigrating. Although these factors play a contributing role, it seems that the early adoption and aggressive growth in emerging technologies are creating a gap in highly advanced skills.
Brent Flint, GM: services at Dimension Data Middle East & Africa says, "At an infrastructure level, IT environments are becoming more complex with the widespread adoption of converged communication and IP Telephony technologies. These technologies cannot be maintained by legacy networking or infrastructure type switching and routing skills. This is not only a South African phenomenon as the demand for advanced technology skills is escalating rapidly throughout the globe."
Although many organisations are investing in skills or learnership programmes to fast track skills, recruiting young professionals presents a challenge as there is only a small pool of talented graduates available in the local market.
"This is further compounded by tertiary educational facilities not producing as sufficient supply of ICT trained skills to meet increasing demand," says Flint.
"Once the successful recruitment of graduates or learners has taken place significant investment is required to develop their skills to enable recruits to meet growing market demands. This entails both formal accreditation and equally if not more importantly, project experience in complex implementations.
"A qualified and experienced ICT skill is then subject to the market demands and becomes a sought-after skill and subsequently highly mobile. It's an 'employees market' and retaining key skills is challenging. If you are in demand globally, whether you're a graduate with only a year or a decade's experience, you can literally choose the best environment to work in anywhere in the world."
Dimension Data has developed a successful recipe for recruiting top talent, having made significant investments in the development of training programmes and skills transfer initiatives. In addition, its corporate social investment initiative, The Saturday School, provides supplementary learning for previously disadvantaged grade 11 and 12 learners with a specific focus on maths, science and English.
"A bursar programme which offers tertiary education has also since been set in place for individuals who have shown promise in ICT and Dimension Data aims to offer them employment on graduation from their chosen courses," says Flint.
In addition, every year the company recruits new graduates into its learnership programme.
"This team of recruits then has the opportunity of a year of combined learning and business experience that will make them great assets if they stay on within the company, or contribute to their employability as they move out into the industry."
Interestingly, an attractive pay cheque is not all that top talent is looking for. The biggest motivator for many top technical professionals is to gain exposure to major projects and an opportunity to implement leading edge technologies. Technical staff are not challenged by playing a reactive role and effecting remedial services. They find stimulation in being challenged by proactive and preventative maintenance programmes which include optimisation services, auditing and performance engineering.