More co-operation, an understanding of the role ICT plays in business, and a constant focus on STEM in education is required if South Africa is to address its ongoing skills shortages.
“We have this ongoing critical need in investment and training,” says JCSE director Adrian Schofield, presenting results from the organisation’s latest skills survey.
He believes that an understanding of the contribution that ICT makes to socio-economic growth from the broader community is vital.
“There are some severe political and economic storm clouds gathering, which makes it very difficult to maintain a level of optimism in how to change things,” Schofield says.
“But there are glimmers of hope and pockets of excellence,” he adds. “If we can nurture those, and bring them together, we can create a critical mass and make this sector much more effective.”
The estimated global value of ICT is about $4-trillion. Worldwide, about 4,4-million people are required just for big data jobs, with a shortage of about 1,8-million in the cybersecurity space.
“So there are plenty of jobs out there — if you have the skills,” Schofield says. “But the signals are mixed: in Europe, there are about 8-million ICT practitioners, with the expected absorption by 2020 reduced from 756 000 to 500 000. This indicated that the market is not growing at the rate it was expected to.”
In South Africa, the approximate value of the GDP is R4-trillion, with ICT valued at about 6% of this, or R250-billion.
While there has been flat growth in the hardware and communications sub-sectors, software is growing at a rate of 13% per annum. “So there will be more jobs in software,” Schofield says.
A number of private sector organisations have programmes and initiatives in place to develop skills, but these tend to produce relatively few skilled people, while the requirement is in the hundreds or thousands.
Poor co-operation from industry and government have also hampered at least one training initiative, Schofield points out. Google training 1-million African last year — but only 70 000 of these were in South Africa compared to more than 800 000 in Nigeria and Kenya.
The skills survey found that, among the sector education and training authorities (SETAs), only those responsible for banking, financial services and insurance have prioritised ICT training, particulary digitalisation, cyber-crime and risk.
“They are looking at what the disrupters in banking are, and are placing great emphasis on the need for ICT skills,” Schofield says.
In banking, the top requirements are for CIOs, software developers, ICT security specialists, data designers/administrators, ICT system analysts, systems administrators, programmer analysts, developer programmers and ICT communications assistants.
According to the JCSE Skills Survey, the priorities for employers are to find skilled resources in security, SaaS/cloud computing, big data and IoT, application development, business intelligence and knowledge management, network infrastructure, mobile computing and web development.
The issue of security is top of their list of requirements.
Employers retain staff through professional development programmes, performance bonuses, flexible schedules, succession planning and increased basic pay.
Their preferred recruitment sources are employment agencies, the web/internet, universities and word of mouth. Very few companies recruit from FET colleges, advertisements or schools.
The skills they most require are Java, C#, Python and .Net/C++, although they also need people proficient in R.PHP, Cobol and Delphi.
“The real shortages are in big data design and analytics; and in information security — those are the most serious shortages,” Schofield points out.
The average ICT practitioner hasn’t changed much over the years, Schofield point out. “He is still a white male in his 30s, has probably got a tertiary degree and some other qualification, and has been working for 10 years.”
Only 55% of practitioners responding to the survey were employed straight from getting their qualification. “That is message to the institutions, that we turning out people with qualifications who are not necessarily employable,” Schofield says.
The survey reveals that 69% of ICT practitioners are permanently employed, with 21% freelancing or contracting. Only 42% of them work in ICT enterprises, with the others employed in end user organisations.
The average practitioner is a multi-tasker, not necessarily specialising in just coding, design or analytics. The environments they work in are typically packages, database, bespoke systems and web sites.
In the past 27% learnt from on-the-job experience or mentoring. The survey shows that this is set to continue in the future, 24% saying they gain experience by doing things. However, 20% go on short courses or other certification opportunities, and there is a shift to e-learning and podcasts.
The key messages from the JCSE Skills Survey are that more collaboration and investment are needed to plug the skills gap.
“We have to have more co-operation between the SETAs,” says Schofield.
Other issues are the proliferation of job descriptions that make it difficult to extract meaningful information, and the ongoing crisis of STEM in education.
“We need to beat the drum about STEM in education until we get policy decisions that raise the level of those crucial subjects in school,” Schofield says. “We need to be learning this stuff and if we don’t start early we are crippling ourselves for the future.”