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Skills shortage needs holistic view

Government is thinking beyond IT skills and talking about how to build an information society/knowledge economy.

So says Dr Harold Wesso, acting CEO of the fledgling Meraka e-Skills Institute and deputy DG of the Department of Communications. Wesso was speaking at the ITWeb Brainstorm ICT Skills and Training seminar, held in Bryanston, this morning.

The problem Wesso highlights is that all the talk of ICT skills shortages tends to refer to ICT practitioner skills, such as those skills that build, develop, maintain and run ICT systems. To build a knowledge economy, he asserts that other types of ICT skills are needed too. These, categorised by the European eSkills Forum, are:

* ICT user skills – ie the skills needed by people who use ICT to do their work;
* E-business skills – the skills that will enable business owners to use technologies like the Internet to improve performance, enhance business operations, or create new businesses; and
* E-literacy – the ability to use the Internet to search and retrieve information, participate in virtual communities and so on.

A further challenge, he says, is that there is no ICT labour market intelligence: “We don't know what skills we need or when we need them,” he states. Additionally, there is a supply-and-demand problem – in addition to skills shortages, there are skills gaps and mismatches. “Hence the incidence of unemployed ICT graduates,” he points out.

“Most of the time, we focus on the ICT practitioner. We focus less systematically on users and e-business skills, and we focus on a very ad hoc basis on e-literacy. It is not just enough to teach a person to switch a PC on and use a bit of Word, we need to teach them how to use the technology to improve their quality of life.”

It is within this context that the government recently launched the Meraka eSkills Institute, which, government says, will drive a “robust e-skills development programme”.

“The institute will build on existing institutional capacity – not duplicate existing efforts – we will use the best of what's available in SA at the moment,” says Wesso.

As such, the institute will look at skills within the larger context of an information economy. It will consider what kind of society people will live in post-2010 and what kinds of skills are likely to be needed. “By addressing future skills needs, we will also address current and past requirements.”

The eSkills Institute aims to partner with local institutions, as well as the private sector, and Wesso says he already has commitments from Oracle, SAP and some of the universities.

”We will deal with skills in a holistic way,” he notes, “across all the categories.”

College transformation

In a bid to get regional training centres running, the Department of Communications, which is responsible for driving the institute, is transforming the 21 national Further Education and Training colleges into ICT hubs so they can be used to teach e-skills.

The institute will build modules/curricula that other people can use to train e-skills, defined by e-Skills UK as a combination of business, people and technology skills.

“Unless we build a society that's e-skilled, we will not be able to address issues in SA in terms of its economic development and growth,” he states.

The Meraka eSkills Institute is expected to open its doors early next year.

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