Borderless world of work threatens SA IT skills base

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The widespread acceptance of work-from-anywhere models is leading some local IT employees to look for employment opportunities offshore, without having to relocate.

This is one of the key findings of a snap survey that took place during a webinar hosted by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) and the authors of the 2022 JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey: professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the JCSE at Wits University, and Adrian Schofield, production consultant at the IITPSA.

Aiming to unpack what a borderless world of work will mean for SA’s IT sector, the webinar discussed the changes that might be expected in IT working environments and skills development in a new world of work.

The online poll, based on a small sample, found that 80% of participants are for the first time looking for opportunities to work for international companies, while 14% are already working for international companies and 4% said they would not know where to find such opportunities.

The surveyed participants indicated they were interested in international opportunities, rather than being prompted to seek international work because there were insufficient opportunities locally.

Of the surveyed participants, 47% said their main reason for working remotely for international firms would be to gain international experience, 42% wanted to earn foreign currency while living at home in SA, and 10% were motivated by networking with international IT leaders.

Schofield noted the local ICT skills base could be further eroded by international demand in a borderless world of work.

“For example, in Australia, there are around 25 million people and they expect to have 1.2 million ICT practitioners by 2027, but this is not enough to meet growing demand. South Africa has more than twice that population but only 1% of our population is engaged in ICTs. We need to close that gap – if Australia is seeking 300 000 more people to add to its ICT workforce, they will look over here.”

According to talent marketplace OfferZen’s 2022 State of the Developer Nation report, SA is pitted against multinational corporations, as the growing digital skills dearth leads to a fierce fight for highly-skilled local software developers.

Over 20% of South African software developers are actively looking to move jobs in search of offshore fortunes, mainly as a result of the acceleration of digitisation and remote work, it says.

Wendy Spalding, MD of talent sourcing solutions Tuesday Consulting, points out the work-from-anywhere model has resulted in an increase in ‘semigration’, emigration, and in South African job-seekers becoming more interested in hearing about international roles.

Headhunting overseas

The IITPSA webinar also polled employers/organisation leaders participating in the event and found that around half are sourcing their talent overseas, with 25% saying this alleviated skills shortages. 50% of respondents said this somewhat eased their skills shortages, and 25% said it did not address their skills challenges.

To counter the risk of losing their skilled workers to international firms, 16% said they were offering employees more flexibility, and 50% were improving skills development and experience opportunities.

Dwolatzky said: “This indicates there are still opportunities in the local market, and that employers value their employees. The remote, borderless world of work appears to have both benefits and disadvantages for employers.

“Among them are that having a workforce working from anywhere reduces overheads, and for international firms there are cost benefits in paying South Africans local market related salaries. It also opens new markets – if you have a remote workforce all over the world, they are potentially closer to some of your customers. Environmentally, it’s more sustainable to cut the travel and carbon footprint, and there are also societal benefits – people stay in their communities where they are socially comfortable.”

The disadvantages of distributed teams, he added, are that it can be harder to maintain human contact, and there is a risk of burnout when people working remotely work harder and longer hours.

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