Is the AI skills gap in SA getting bigger?

Johannesburg, 15 Sep 2021
Read time 2min 50sec

Life was relatively normal 18 months ago – kids were at school, we physically went into work, and everyone was more certain of the paths they were on. But today, having been forced to work from home, do online schooling or have online gatherings, just to keep in touch with loved ones, people of all ages have had to become a lot more tech savvy, stepping out of our comfort zones by learning how to use technology to navigate everyday life. 

Catalysed by COVID-19, boardrooms across the country are now focusing on digitisation like never before – but do we actually have the requisite AI skills within SA to service the associated demands for rapid digitisation? SafriCloud, one of Africa’s leading cloud communication companies, decided to find out, and surveyed SA’s leading IT decision-makers. The results have been published in an eye-opening report: ‘AI: SA – The state of AI in South African businesses 2021’.

The survey revealed there is a clear degree of pessimism to the level of skills and knowledge to be found in the South African market, which is more exaggerated at a senior management level, where more than 60% rated ‘low internal skill levels’ as the number one challenge facing AI adoption. However, Gartner’s 2020 international survey of CIOs* also showed ‘skill of staff’ to be the clearest roadblock to greater AI adoption, proving that this is not a localised problem.

Combining this with the fact that the global AI and ML jobs listings have grown almost 75% over the past four years, leads us to a clear set of winners and losers. The winners will be the skilled employees. With increased demand, they will have greater bargaining power that will start to push up salaries. The losers will be the employers, who will have to fight ever harder to acquire and retain this scarce and expensive resource.

What is the outlook for South Africa’s AI/ML job market? With nearly 60% of the respondents rating the need to implement AI/ML in the next two years as ‘important’ to ‘very important’ and only 35% of businesses saying they currently have internal resources focused on AI/ML, the skills gap will continue to grow.

There appear to be three broad ways that a balance can be found between these market forces: Training and specialisation; skills outsourcing; and third-party software. Unless you have very deep pockets or the patience to sit around for the market to catch up, then training is your best bet for managing internal skill. Skills outsourcing and third-party software are generally seen as solutions that help you manage and forecast cost more easily. You’ll gain the benefits of AI/ML without additional staff and training overheads, and gain cutting-edge technology and skills at a quicker rate.

Get free and instant access to the full report, to discover where your business is at when it comes to AI:

Editorial contacts
Digital and Strategy Alpha9 Digital Consulting Paul Walker (Director) (065) 330 4242
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