South Africa’s ICT skills gap narrows marginally

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 10 Oct 2022

South Africa has seen a slight improvement in the ICT skills gap over the last two years; however, the struggle to fill tens of thousands of vacancies in the sector persists.

This is one of the key findings of the 2022 JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey. The 12th edition is carried out by Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), in partnership with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), with the support of the Information Technology Association.

The results are based on an online survey of ICT professionals and South African employers, combined with data provided by the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA). The number of survey participants was not disclosed.

According to the report, the rapid digital adoption driven by the pandemic and other factors resulted in SA’s ICT skills gap narrowing by a small margin.

COVID-19 resulted in changes in SA’s private sector, with fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies being implemented to varying degrees, depending on firms’ capabilities.

Although digitisation and automation already began developing during the third industrial revolution, the sector is now witnessing an increasing integration of such technologies in how people work and live.

According to the report, in 2022, the media, information and communication technologies sector saw an increase in the number of employees, recording 228 990.

The largest proportion (54%) of employees work in the information and technology sub-sector, followed by 28% in telecommunications and 9% in electronics.

Advertising, accounting for 4%, and film and electronic media, accounting for 5%, are the sub-sectors with the lowest number of employees.

The pandemic brought about a number of new ways of doing things, such as working remotely, which caused an exponential rise in video calls/phone calls, as more people organised meetings via apps or collaboration platforms. There was also a rise in e-learning, online education and e-governance.

“The skills gap is temporarily narrowed because of COVID-19 and the effect on the economy,” explains Adrian Schofield, report author and production consultant at the IITPSA.

“The percentage gap between vacancies and candidates has narrowed slightly in the past two years. Previously, there was a 15% gap between vacancies and available candidates, now that gap is around 12%. This is not much and in the longer term there will always be this gap.”

Adrian Schofield, production consultant at the IITPSA.
Adrian Schofield, production consultant at the IITPSA.

To narrow the ICT skills gap, SA requires a vast improvement in the education pipeline – with more pupils taking up careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, asserts Schofield.

There must also be a change of thinking in employers who are determined to employ graduates straight out of the schooling system and expect them to “start building a house straight away”, instead of honing their skills over time and developing loyal, long-term employees.

“There will always be an ICT skills gap in South Africa, simply because the older generation takes their skills to retirement pastures and we are not filling these skills fast enough from the bottom level. Employers are yet to understand that young people can be very effective in this industry without having to go through 16 years of the formal schooling system,” Schofield points out.

Local ICT skills are further eroded by the increasing number of local employers recruiting ICT skills internationally, notes the report. This number has increased from 38% in the 2021 report, to over 50% in the latest survey.

Many highly-qualified and experienced ICT practitioners are taking their skills overseas, to more stable social environments and more lucrative economies – a phenomenon described by the report’s authors as “disturbing”.

Most in demand

According to the survey, the top five occupations reported by the SETA with hard-to-fill vacancies in the MICT sector are software developer (1 435 vacancies), computer network and systems engineer (1 070), ICT systems analyst (1 036), ICT security specialist (270) and developer programmer (252).

These vacancy numbers are lower than last year, notes the research.

The survey references the Career Junction Employment Insights Report (July 2022), which showed that overall hiring activity was 23% higher than the previous year and indicated the demand for IT professionals ranked third, behind finance and sales professionals.

Career Junction also carried out research to identify “future jobs” and included the following in the top 10 roles: cloud engineering, data science, DevOps engineering, e-commerce manager, data engineering, digital marketing and salesforce developers.

The demand for skills generally, and for ICT skills in particular, is subject to a wide range of influences. These include the depressed state of the economy, uncertain political stability, fallout from exposure to crime and corruption, and the introduction of new and improved technologies.

The key drivers of change influencing skills demand and supply across the MICT sector in future include artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data analytics, 5G and internet of things, notes the survey.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred on the uptake of 4IR technologies and the relevant skills that are required to enable it. Change drivers affect how businesses operate and survive into the future,” says professor Barry Dwolatzky, report author and director of the JCSE.

“Thus, new ways of doing things, including skills training, are required to exploit new opportunities in the market that emerge as a result of 4IR. The above-mentioned change drivers call for the continued development of technologies and skills in the sector. However, this must be balanced with also catering for lower-end skills.”

All survey respondents believe they need to keep upskilling themselves to stay relevant in a changing environment, through a combination of on-site learning, e-learning/podcasts and knowledge-sharing.