Let's start working
The IT industry has spent countless hours lamenting the reputed ICT skills crisis in SA, but what exactly are we doing about it?
Looking at the various reports on quantifying the skills dearth, one thing becomes clear - there is no consensus.
The Information Systems, Electronics and Telecommunications Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (ISETT SETA) says it has no proof that a shortage exists. At the beginning of June, deputy communications minister Roy Padayachie said: "The matter [of ICT skills shortages] is quite urgent", and noted the department intends to map SA's ICT skills shortage by September.
Indian executives peg the shortage at 60 000 professionals and Keith Anderson, COO of Axiz and president of the IT Association, has said: "Nobody, and I mean nobody, can stand up and say with authority what the skills shortage is."
At a recent conference held by CompTIA, the IT core competencies certifying body, delegates had no doubt that the lack of professionals is a burning problem in SA. This seems to be the general consensus across the board, except of course, for ISETT SETA.
While these mixed signals cloud the situation even further, it strikes me as more than just a little irrelevant.
This attitude needs a drastic readjustment if companies plan to solve the crisis at hand.Candice Jones, portal deputy editor, ITWeb
What struck me most at the conference is that few companies are actually taking a stand. So what if we don't know the numbers, we know there is a problem, now let's fix it.
Some businesses have taken the initiative and have started training individuals for positions where skills are most in need. Although this approach is being used more often, it is also usually tacked with comments like: "We are training these individuals, only to have them move to another company with the skills that we paid for."
This attitude needs a drastic readjustment if companies plan to solve the crisis at hand. Michael Cameron, HR manager at Mustek, said it best at the CompTIA conference: "The training ultimately benefits the economy as a whole."
The more people that businesses train, the more people will be released into the skills pool. Granted, it must be hard for companies to spend money on something that won't, in the long run, belong to them. Worst of all, some people are starting to see a valuable truth: you cannot retain staff anymore.
Mike Stopforth, creator of Cerebra, said to me the other day: "[The current skills situation is] counter-intuitive, like trying to herd cats."
The ITWeb Salary Survey has seen a similar situation. So the message then is organisations need to stop reacting in such a short-sighted manner.
Gary Chalmers, TorqueIT marketing director, once said: "It will become part of the supply and demand equation. The more skills you build, the more access you will have to those skills."
Innovation is the new black
However, building these skills may not be all give and no take. Innovation is one of the biggest contributors to organisations' success in the global economy.
And where does innovation come from? Some of the executives at Ericsson's Multimedia Solutions and Systems unit believe innovation is born in new and emerging talent.
So ultimately, if companies take on students, train them and develop their skills, the best possible outcome is that they are actually investing in innovation.
Perhaps a list of endangered ICT professionals would be useful to the industry in general, but it is not a requirement in the process of resolving the problem.
Put up the fences and take up the slack. Companies must start training the IT professionals they need, because in the end they may gain more than they bargained for.