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South Africa’s digital economy can unlock 66 000 jobs in 2021

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 05 Nov 2020

Digital skills and services have the potential to pave the way for over 66 000 jobs in SA’s ICT sector over the next year, two-thirds of which are entry-level roles.

This is one of the key findings of the Harambee Mapping of Digital and ICT Roles and Demand for South Africa Survey, released this week by social enterprise Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator.

The study identifies what roles, functions and competencies are in demand for digital and ICT employment in SA, and which certifications are most needed by businesses and employers.

The study was conducted by Genesis Global Business Services from April to July 2020 via outbound calls and online surveys with C-level decision-makers who represent organisations across 15 key vertical markets, including automotive, banking and financial services, education, media and publishing, public sector/government, retail and e-commerce, technology, telecommunications, travel and leisure, and utilities.

The study points out that as SA’s economy continues to take a knock, digital services can help fuel economic recovery and growth through digital and ICT skills training particularly focused on South African youth.

Three million jobs have been lost this year, with youth labour force participation rate dropping by 12 percentage points to just below 16%. If job losses persist, SA will have lost a decade's worth of job growth in only six months, notes the study.

According to the research, the imperative now is to generate skills for these jobs – with the digital economy being a key pathway to job creation.

However, the survey suggests digital skills training initiatives for ICT roles need to be cheaper, quicker and more inclusive because traditional training programmes that require many years of formal training, degrees and extensive work experience exclude many young people who can do the work.

The most favoured solution by survey respondents to cross this hurdle are micro-credentials, which offer subject-specific certifications for those who cannot access a full-length university degree. Ranked second is ongoing life-long learning.

“The advent of technological innovation has for many years been the single biggest driver reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future,” says Juanita Clark, CEO of Digital Council Africa and partner in the research project.

“More recently, the required skill-sets that meet the criteria of digital workplace demands, many of which do not currently exist, are expected to accelerate as the country is further catapulted into the 4IR [fourth industrial revolution].”

R150 million wasted on importing skills

According to the study, by far the most critical skills required in SA immediately include IT solutions specialist and the technical skills required in a significant number of businesses.

The process of conceiving, specifying, designing, programming and testing applications or software components is by far a main focus of business, with ‘software development engineer’ identified as the most critical skill required.

Cyber security was cited by respondents as their next biggest concern, with “cyber/IT security specialist” selected as a critical skills requirement.

In an increasingly cyber-vigilant world, security and managing data in the cloud are crucial for managing risk and avoiding liability while managing overwhelming volumes of data, says Harambee.

As such, there is also high demand for traditional database specialists, integrated systems developers, systems engineers, data analysts as well as enterprise architects, it adds.

The research shows 69% of respondents outsource digital work and expertise to other countries. This equates to R150 million paid annually to service providers in other countries, which translates into estimated lost export revenue for SA of about R8.5 billion every year.

“Reshoring and bringing back this digital work present significant high-earning job opportunities for unemployed youth in South Africa,” notes Evan Jones, group strategy director of Harambee.

“South Africa must prepare its skilling pathways and training programmes to meet this demand and ensure young people who need those jobs the most are brought into the digital economy.”

However, the study notes SA is already uniquely qualified in some of the factors that matter the most to respondents, with more than half (55%) indicating they have the capability to service international markets from SA.

In terms of future skills identified that businesses will continue to require in the next five years, the role of data analyst emerged as the most critical. This important role includes collecting/gathering data, analysing and interpreting this data and making improvements in existing data models, Harambee explains.

It adds that equally critical is the science behind managing and obtaining intelligence from data, which explains the second and third most in-demand future skills identified by respondents over the next five years as data scientist and machine learning specialist.

Other critical skills include specialists in the Internet of things, blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotic automation, quantum computing, biotech and nanotech.