Kathy Gibson reports – Just about every organisation in Africa is in desperate need of more tech skills.

This is the headline finding from new SAP research, “Africa’s tech skills scarcity revealed”, conducted by VansonBourne.

The survey shows that just about every organisation in Africa needs more tech skills, Just 3% of companies say they don’t expect to have any tech challenges in 2023.

At the same time, the need for tech skills has increased at 93% of organisation over the last 12 months.

The bottom line that that 69% of African companies expect to experience a skills gap in the year ahead.

Across the continent, the top collective challenge is to attract skilled new recruits – except in South Africa, where skills retention is the top challenge.

South African organisations also place a greater premium on digital transformation skills, with 70% of them citing this as an in-demand skill.

But Cathy Smith, MD of SAP Africa, believes we need to challenge what we mean by tech skills, and what companies actually need.

A lot of the seminal development in the industry takes place outside of Africa, so those skills are not necessarily what is needed here.

“I think customers are looking for people who understand what technology does, how to convert the tech to address the business requirements. We are talking about more than application development.”

Increasingly customers are looking for tech skills that are able to collaborate wit the business. “It is about people working together. We need different skill sets to come together, to use tech to solve problems and help the organisation to adopt them.”

For instance, project management skills are vital within the tech space, she adds.

There can be no doubt that the tech skills shortage is affecting business.

The survey shows that 53% of African organisations have seen their capacity for innovation undermined by a lack of skills. Two in three have suffered delays with completing existing projects; 46% were sometimes unbale to meet client needs due to lack of skills; and 53% have been unable to take on new projects.

Skills development is something that IT vendors take very seriously and most big organisations are running programmes to upskill young people. But these campaigns are point solutions and don’t meet the need we have for scale, Smith says, and conscious, deliberate co-operation between vendors would be necessary.

“We have on this continent the most fantastic natural resource – the youngest population o the planet. Why are we not looking to that population to address the skills gap?”

For true digitalisation to happen, companies cannot simply implement a technology solution and expect things to happen, Smith says. “They will be faced by resistance and lack of skill that could make their investments in technology null and void.”

But change management is still not the priority it should e – only 18% of companies listed change management as an in-demand skill. Kenya, in particular, doesn’t rate change management, with only 10% citing the skill as in-demand.

The new world of work needs to be co-created with employees, Smith says – and technology can help.

In the year ahead, 41% of African companies said that upskilling employees is a top challenge, and 40% cited reskilling as a roadblock.

There are skill questions around remote work as well: two in five companies want candidates that are willing to work physically in the office. This is highest in Nigeria, where 43% cite it as a top requirement. Meanwhile. 45% allow remote work but want employees in the office most of the time

The use of technology tools to assist with human capital management is widespread: seven in 10 organisations already use a human capital management (HCM) or employee experience (EX) tool. The 3% that don’t use such a tool say they don’t intend to.

Companies want people that have tech skills, but this isn’t the only criterion. When looking for skills, companies look for a candidate that mixes technical and industry skills with good interpersonal skills: 69% of companies say tech skills are an important attribute they look for; 66% said industry-specific skills were important to them.

Interpersonal skills, good alignment with company culture, and the ability to work remotely were the top candidate attributes that African organisations look for when recruiting.