Skills debate rages on

Johannesburg, 25 Jun 2007
Read time 3min 20sec

There has been much debate about the reputed ICT skills shortage in SA, but CompTIA Break Away Africa 2007 delegates had no doubt this is a burning problem in SA.

The conference brought together several industry players to discuss the possible solutions and causes of what they consider an industry-wide problem.

The event follows mixed signals from various government departments on whether SA faces an ICT skills crisis.

In late April, Home Affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced government had set aside 35 000 work permits for skilled foreigners "able to contribute to the growth of the South African economy in a number of areas suffering from a shortage of critical skills". However, none of these permits were for skilled ICT professionals.

The Information Systems, Electronics and Telecommunications Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (ISETT SETA) later said it had no proof that a skills shortage exists.

Oupa Mopaki, CEO of the ISETT SETA, said the government institution attempted to conduct research to determine the extent of the ICT skills shortage and what areas had been affected, but only received two responses from industry. Mopaki said the lack of industry feedback had led him to believe there is no skills shortage.

However, at the beginning of this month, deputy communications minister Roy Padayachie said: "The matter [ICT skills shortage] is quite urgent," and noted the department intends to map SA's ICT skills shortage by September.

At this year's Break Away Africa conference, Luisette Mullin, ICT director at DAV Professional Placement Group, said: "We work closely with the client and very often they are looking for a skill set that just does not exist."

Gary Chalmers, TorqueIT marketing director, said fewer people were enrolling in ICT-based education programmes. "The industry seems to be less attractive and fewer people are seeing the appeal in it as a career."

If you get them

Michael Cameron, HR manager at Mustek, said there are resources, but for the most part available workers are unskilled or inexperienced. "We are training these individuals, only to have them move to another company with the skills that we paid for."

He added the company has come to accept the cost of training individuals and has begun to see it as a form of social responsibility. "The training ultimately benefits the economy as a whole," he noted.

Microsoft's HR director Sandy Mohonathan said companies are no longer trying to attract and train the right skills, adding that the industry is now "playing the poaching game".

"This is evident in this year's ITWeb Salary Survey," said Ranka Jovanovic, editorial director of ITWeb. "Employees are hopping from job to job." She said the survey showed people are most likely to change jobs because they feel undervalued or that they are stagnating due to lack of career growth opportunities or training.

Gary Chalmers, TorqueIT marketing director, said organisations must let go of the fear of training and losing staff. "People feel more valued when they are being trained, because they feel as though they are advancing their own abilities."

He pointed out that training is never a factor in driving people to leave. "It will become part of the supply and demand equation. The more skills you build, the more access you will have to those skills."

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