Less focus on degrees as SA transforms into skills economy

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 04 Apr 2024
Paul Byrne, head of insights and customer success at Pnet, and Hope Lukoto, chief HR officer at BCX.
Paul Byrne, head of insights and customer success at Pnet, and Hope Lukoto, chief HR officer at BCX.

As South Africa transforms into a skills-based economy, ICT firms are placing more value and emphasis on skills over tertiary qualifications.

This is according to recruitment experts, detailing trends in South Africa's recruitment landscape, influenced by technological advancements, changing demographics, and a dynamic global economy.

Online jobs portal Pnet reports that its latest data confirms a growing number of local companies are adopting a human-centric approach to hiring ICT staff, putting greater emphasis on skills over formal qualifications.

Paul Byrne, head of insights and customer success at Pnet, notes that local tech firms are favouring candidates who possess the precise skills and experience required for the job, regardless of their academic background.

“With the rapid evolution of technology, the demand for specific skills often outweighs the importance of traditional qualifications,” he explains. “In the tech industry, where innovation and adaptability are of paramount importance, companies are prioritising candidates who possess relevant, up-to-date skills over those with formal qualifications. This skills-based shift reflects the reality that many necessary tech skills are acquired through practical experience, continuous learning, and specialised training rather than formal education.”

According to Byrne, other factors contributing to greater emphasis being placed on skills include SA’s tech skills gap, companies focusing more on diversity and inclusion, and the broader vision to achieve greater operational efficiencies and productivity in the workplace.

SA, like many other countries, faces a significant shortage of qualified tech professionals to meet the growing demands of the industry.

“In such a competitive landscape, companies may need to broaden their hiring criteria to include individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences, even if they lack formal qualifications.

Emphasising skills allows companies to tap into a larger pool of talent, including self-taught individuals, career changers, and those from underrepresented groups, who may not have followed traditional educational pathways, he adds.

According to trends research firm Flux Trends, SA is seeing an increase in the number of people pursuing and taking up ‘new-collar’ jobs, which require advanced tech skills, but not necessarily four-year university degrees.

Inadvertently perpetuating biases

Hope Lukoto, chief human resources officer at BCX, tells ITWeb, the most common mistake made by HR practitioners and departments is using the qualifications criteria as a ‘box-ticking’ process when assessing if a job seeker meets all expectations required for an IT role.

“We see globally that there is a review of whether or not it is really important that job candidates have a degree for a particular role. Local HR practitioners have to also think in new ways, and talk more about the job seeker’s skills-set and less about the degrees and MBAs,” Lukoto points out.

According to Byrne, focusing solely on qualifications rather than skills can lead to several challenges in SA’s ICT sector. These include a limited talent pool, inflexibility in adapting to technological advancements, and it may inadvertently perpetuate biases and inequalities within the tech industry.

He says, “we need people that have a broad approach to solution development” and “a level of curiosity to delve into the alternative solutions that could be put into developing technology to resolve business problems”.

“Focussing solely on qualifications can lead to hiring candidates who may have obtained their credentials years ago and may not be up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends,” concludes Byrne.