SA ill-equipped for Big Four

Johannesburg, 20 Jan 2012
Read time 3min 40sec

One of the country's biggest challenges when it comes to the lack of IT skills is not only the size of the shortage, but the specific areas of shortfall as well.

This is according to Ravi Bhat, software group executive for IBM SA, commenting on the findings of IBM's latest Tech Trends Report. It highlights growing trends within the IT landscape, as well as the corresponding lack of local skills available.

According to the 2011 Tech Trends Report, which surveyed more than 4 000 IT professionals from 93 countries and 25 different industries, mobile computing, cloud computing, social business and business analytics have gone beyond niche technology status, and now form part of any modern organisation's core IT focus.

"This means that IT professionals who can develop the skills needed to work across these technologies will be ready to meet growing business demand in the coming years," says Bhat.

The so-called 'Big Four' technologies are also more interconnected than people may think, he adds. Adoption of one is driving the adoption of others, including business analytics and social, mobile and cloud, and social and mobile. "From a skills perspective, that means developers and students need to have a broad knowledge across all of these areas.”

The 2011 Skills Survey, compiled by the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), in partnership with MICT SETA, the e-Skills Institute and ITWeb, shows there continues to be steady demand for ICT skills across the majority of employers in the sector. The survey notes that current demand falls in the range of 20 000 to 30 000 job opportunities.

The survey also found that, in terms of local ICT priorities, application development remained the top priority, with software as a service also high on the agenda. Mirroring IBM's findings, mobile computing inched up the priority list, as the rise of tablet computers and smartphones call for systems that offer secure and reliable facilties for mobile workers. Business intelligence and knowledge management also feature strongly for the next year.

According to IBM, universities are not producing sufficient numbers of graduates with the required level of technical skills to grow and competitively position businesses in African markets. But Adrian Schofield, manager of the Applied Research Unit at the JCSE, adds there's another critical factor: whether people are able to enter industry and then be useful fairly quickly.

“There's a reluctance on the part of industry to take in people who cannot start working straight away,” he notes. This means businesses are paying a relatively high price to get the experienced people they want, and putting themselves at risk by becoming overly dependent on skills that may be difficult to replace,” Schofield adds.

“There should be a closer relationship between industry and teritary institituions, including technical colleges, because students who are going through an otherwise good learning programme are not getting the experience required.”

When this does happen, however, graduates tend to get empolyed right away, he says.

In countries where there's a reasonable balance between supply and demand, employers take in people with relatively specialised skills, notes Schofiled, while in SA, IT professionals often have to do more multitasking, and getting a job might require broader experience.

The JCSE/ITWeb survey echoes these sentiments, showing only a minority of respondents describe what they do as involving three or less areas of activity. A very high proportion of respondents indicate they carry out a number of technical and business activities, which the report authors see as worrying. They note that it could lead to a degree of underperformance due to becoming overwhelmed, or an over-dependence on the individual concerned, who becomes irreplaceable.

IBM sees the sustained shortage of skills within the local IT sector as a major obstacle toward sustainable growth, as well as social and economic development.

“It's going to be another challenging year,” says Schofield, noting that the changing nature of IT skills required will continue to drive fairly strong demand locally.

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