Last month, the Department of Higher Education and Training published the National Scarce Skills List that provides a list of the top 100 occupations in the country that are considered to be in short supply. With Information and Communications Technology (ICT) making up a fair portion of those, what can be done to ensure our youth have the right skills to enter the job market?

“Given how closely linked skills development is to the socio-economic growth of a country, both the public and the private sectors need to do their bit to ensure education provides the foundation needed to more effectively transform the nation,” says Greg Vercellotti, executive director at Dariel, a South African professional IT services company and systems integrator.

According to Trading Economics, the South African unemployment rate increased to 25.2% in the first quarter of this year from 24.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013. This has seen the number of employed persons increase by 237 000 over the same period.

“The reality is that decision-makers need to take a hard look at how to bridge the gap between the education received in school and the practical reality of what is required in the job market. The National Scarce Skills List reflects the importance of providing quality skills, especially in the engineering and ICT fields. Clearly, more work is needed to address the scarcity of those skills,” says Michael Fletcher, sales director for Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa.

Vercellotti agrees: “The connected world of today means organisations across industry sectors require highly skilled people to enable them to become more competitive in the global market. One of the challenges facing education is the fact that many young people do not finish school and therefore lack the foundational skills needed to be able to go into the specialist fields required in the job market.”

The importance of the public and private sectors working together to help come up with a feasible, long-term solution cannot be overstated. It is vital for the influential organisations to provide government with insight on the type of skills needed to grow the South African job market.

“The cycle of education needs to be placed under closer scrutiny. It is not a high school or higher education problem only. The seeds for employability are planted as soon as a learner enters school for the first time. Of course, this is not to say that education needs to be only job-driven but it definitely needs to have a component that is reflective of where market skills will be needed,” adds Fletcher.

Presenting at the Skills Development Summit last year, Gizelle McIntyre from the Institute of People Development, said that creativity is the key for innovative success in skills development. By thinking outside the box, businesses are able to come up with unique ideas that could lead to a new environment when it comes to skills development.

“We are aware of the socio-economic challenges that exist. Despite these, or perhaps because of them, our country is filled with people who are adaptable and able to continually find ways of growing themselves.

“These individuals embrace learning beyond the classroom to contribute to the economic growth of South Africa. But through integrating technology and other resources at schools, the potential to do so much more is too good an opportunity to miss out on,” says Vercellotti.

For this to work, both Vercellotti and Fletcher agree that the skills development agenda is not something that can be happenstance.

“June is Youth Month and there will be much focus placed on initiatives and other projects to empower the youth. It bears mentioning that for us to effectively address skills development there needs to be a focused approach throughout the year,” concludes Fletcher.