Kathy Gibson reports – South African stakeholders from government, education and industry need to work together and take urgent action to alleviate the ICT skills shortage so the country can drive a vibrant economy.

This is the overriding message from a white paper released today by EY and Huawei, which examines the current skills shortage and recommends action to address it.

Angelika Goliger

Angelika Goliger, chief economist of EY Africa and sub-Saharan Africa representative in EY’s geostrategic business group, presented the findings from the paper, “ICT Talent Development for the Digital South Africa”, this morning.

“We are all aware of having gone through significant volatility globally and in South Africa, with severe economic distress,” she says. “The South African economy has just managed to reach pre-pandemic levels.

“At the same time the ICT sector has shown resilience, largely as a result of the needs driven by the pandemic. But South Africa’s ICT growth has had a ceiling because of the lack of ICT skills.”

But ICT skills needs go well beyond the ICT industry, Goliger points out, with ICT a vital part of all industries. “Technology can be a multiplier in the economic sense, and is critical for a country’s development.”

The white paper identified three key challenges facing the country.

“Firstly, we need to speed up the process of moving South Africa to the digital economy. Rapidly-evolving technologies have the potential to spur industrial development, attract investment and create conditions for inclusive growth. But people and skills are needed to enable this.”

The second finding is that there is already a significant demand for ICT talent, and this will continue to grow.

“There is also a demand for more foundational skills,” says Goliger. “And these skills need to evolve as the technology evolves.”

Companies realise they need to continually upskill, with 44% of people’s skills having to change as they go forward, and 75% of orgnanisations looking to provide reskilling for their workers.

The third imperative is that we need to increase the supply of ICT talent to cater for future demand. “The education sector is still not yielding enough graduates,” Goliger says. “And the skills they do produce need to be in line with demand.”

This situation is exacerbated by a very real brain drain, and the ability for skilled individuals to work anywhere in the world.

The white paper concludes with a number of recommendations for action by government, the education sector and the ICT industry.

“If there is one takeaway from this exercise, it is collaboration,” Goliger says. “Everyone needs to work together to achieve a vibrant and healthy ICT sector that can support a growing economy.”

Government’s role in the collaboration starts with policy. “There are great policies in place, but they need to monitored and evaluated, and tweaked where needed if they are not producing results.

There is also a need to ensure flexibility in the education systems for ICT skills, making education and training accessible and future proof.

“With the fast-moving nature of technology and ICT, the industry is calling for a more responsive educational approach; and collaboration could be structured differently.”

The education sector is urged to conduct a feasibility study to develop a framework for ICT and digital education content, and set up a platform for how it can be developed and grown over time.

There is also a need to support educators and teachers in understanding digital technologies.

“Education needs to work in conjunction with all relevant entities to define a long-term strategic vision,” Goliger says.

The ICT sector has an important role to play in this collaboration, and should provide regular training events and help to create job opportunities.

“The industry should be providing universities and TVETs with information on the current and emerging skills that are required.”

In the workplace, the ICT industry should also focus on providing continuous, lifelong learning for employees; and also ensure that we benefit from imported skills.

Chen Ka

Chen Ka, deputy-CEO of Huawei South Africa, points out that ICT has been an enabler throughout the Covid years, and will continue as such for years to come.

“This means more skilled people are going to be required to meet current and future needs,” he says.

Ka believes there is a multi-layered demand for ICT talent: to empower ICT policy-makers to better utilise digital tools; to reskill and upskill the ICT workforce for current and future innovations; to build a pool of young talent for the long-term; and to promote digital awareness among ordinary citizens in order to drive a knowledge-based society.

“I call for closer collaboration between government, academia and industry to explore the possibility for more ICT development programmes,” says Ka.

“I also want to stress that Huawei commits to continuing to help bridge the digital divide, nurture South Africa’s ICT talent, and provide inclusive opportunities for all people.”

For its part, government acknowledged that more needs to be done when it comes to nurturing ICT talent and commitment to driving greater cooperation between itself, academia, Huawei and other stakeholders in ICT talent development.

“We must be deliberate in addressing the challenges of digital transformation and our efforts should be aimed at using the available knowledge and digital infrastructure to ensure that we mitigate, rather than exacerbate, existing digital inequities, ” says Buti Manamela, deputy minister of higher education, science and innovation.

“But, the reality is that government cannot do it on its own. We need increased partnerships and collaboration with the private sector, not only in terms of resources, but also policy interventions that will go a long way in helping to address youth unemployment and contribute to the development of scarce and future skills.”

Buti Manamela

The deputy minister commended Huawei for its various ground breaking joint skills development initiatives with government and various education institutes to support youth exposure to the ICT industry and equip them with the latest ICT knowledge and skills.

In addition to the whitepaper, Huawei’s launched its 2022-2023 ICT Competition for South Africa. The Global competition is one of the largest ICT events in the world, attracting tens of thousands of entrants from around the globe. It is aimed at driving the development of ICT talent for industry growth and digital transformation and is a crucial element of Huawei’s talent ecosystem, which seeks to address the skills shortage in the sector.

“Through Huawei’s ICT Competition, we aim to enhance the knowledge and practical skills of ICT students and create a workforce that meets both current and future needs. As of now, qualifying Huawei ICT Academy graduates can begin their application process. We will also work with our university and college partners to encourage student participation because we believe that South African students can compete on the global finals stage,” concludes Chen.