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ICT brain drain, skills dearth threaten SA’s 4IR progress

Read time 3min 20sec
IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane.
IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane.

The ICT skills shortage remains the biggest challenge in SA this year, despite the country being on par with global counterparts in the sector.

This is according to the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA).

The industry body says SA’s ICT sector is highly innovative and entrepreneurial, presenting opportunities for significant job creation and export opportunities in the decade ahead, but the skills shortage poses a challenge.

IITPSA points to the ICT brain drain and slow ICT skills development as threats to the country’s fourth industrial revolution (4IR) progress.

The government has also been vocal about the critical issues facing the country’s young people, noting more needs to be done to ensure South African youth are employable, especially in the context of the 4IR.

Reflecting on the biggest challenges and opportunities for the SA ICT sector in 2020, IITPSA board members point to the skills shortage as the single biggest challenge facing the sector in the next 10 years.

Pearl Pasi, IITPSA non-executive director and chairperson of IITPSA’s Western Cape chapter, says: “One of the key benefits is that the 4IR is seeing previously manual work being automated and completed in a fraction of a second. Initially, this did not sit well with employees who feared job losses, but this challenge has been resolved by reskilling and upskilling of most employees to keep pace.

“Furthermore, new careers that didn’t exist in that last decade have been created; for example, in the app development and programming spaces. This has also brought more women into the IT fraternity, thereby improving gender inequality.”

IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane adds: “According to the World Economic Forum, the emergence of the 4IR could create up to 160 million new jobs. South Africa has witnessed Microsoft building cloud data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Amazon establishing its presence in the country, which presents new opportunities for our young people to contribute and find employment.”

In March last year, Microsoft unveiled two Azure data centres in SA – one in Johannesburg and another in Cape Town.

In the same month, Huawei rolled out Huawei Cloud, “its first availability zone” for cloud services in SA. While the Chinese firm does not yet own any data centres locally, it is offering localised public cloud services from a leased data centre through a Johannesburg-based partner.

In October, Amazon Web Services announced it will bring its data centres to SA, opening an infrastructure region in Cape Town, in the first half of 2020.

Moira de Roche, IITPSA director, agrees SA’s ICT sector is vibrant but more skills are needed.

“We do need to do more to nurture talent and keep it in the country. ICT professionals are leaving South Africa, and one reason they do so is crime. There is little the sector can do to change that, but organisations do need to be conscious of employees’ needs to develop their skills and not get left behind; and they need to reward them appropriately.”

Additionally, De Roche says the country needs to look beyond technical skills development.

“We also need to look at skills that will differentiate people from robots.” Pointing to creativity, innovation, ethics and professionalism, De Roche says teaching these skills will be more challenging than teaching technical skills.

“These skills aren’t easy to teach – they should be embedded in every subject and adopted throughout the culture of every organisation and the country as a whole. These skills are crucial in allowing us to use our fantastic innovation capabilities to harness the power of the technology we have in an appropriate and ethical way.”

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