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DPSA DG lifts lid on state of ICT skills in public service

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Among the challenges facing the public service is a workforce with limited ICT expertise, says Yoliswa Makhasi, public service and administration director-general (DG).

Makhasi was speaking at the official launch of the Department of Public Service and Administration’s (DPSA’s) Future of Work (FOW) ambassadors programme on Friday.

According to the DG, out of the 1 134 443 fulltime employees in the public service, there are only 4 523 employees in ICT functions. This figure represents only 0.3% of the fulltime employees, she stated.

“If you want to run a digitisation programme in the public service, surely you need more numbers of not just young people or employees in the ICT departments, but young people or people who are open to the idea of using technology.”

During her presentation, Makhasi reflected that she was shocked to discover there’s a huge percentage of people employed in ICT functions in government who don’t even qualify to be in those roles, noting that some are at very senior levels.

“They might have the experience because they’ve been fiddling with the systems for a long time to know what’s going on, but they don’t qualify as a start. They were placed in ICT positions when these roles started.

“If there was somebody who looks like they have an interest in computers, that person was just placed in the role, so they grow into the role and the responsibilities.”

According to Makhasi, the future of work requires a public sector that is adequately skilled in ICT expertise.

In addition to the limited skillset, ICT procurement is a major stumbling block in the public service’s digitisation journey, she noted, with the centralisation of processes at the State IT Agency and the delays in the Integrated Financial Management System some of the challenges departments have to deal with.

Yoliswa Makhasi, public service and administration director-general. (Image via Department of Public Service and Administration)
Yoliswa Makhasi, public service and administration director-general. (Image via Department of Public Service and Administration)

The DG commented there’s a severe shortage of ICT capacity (warm bodies) and skills (ICT specialists) across the public service departments.

“There is a need to forecast ICT skills of the future to keep up with the rapid change – reskilling and upskilling. We need to prioritise reskilling and upskilling of public servants towards the capacitation of the ICT functions.”

There’s also a need to allow flexibility in regulations, she continued. “If a young person has a Master’s degree in an ICT specialist area − for example blockchain − and we as government want to use blockchain technology and want as many of those young people as possible, there must be an easier way to allow that to happen.

“It’s allowed to happen currently but it’s not as easy and accessible. In terms of our regulations, we need to allow that.”

She pointed out the state is usually late in planning and responding to technological developments.

“As much as the move from a manual to digital environment can be threatening, especially to the older generation, it also presents lots of opportunities for the older and younger generation. If you are older and you are prepared to adapt and continuously develop your skills, there shouldn’t be a problem.

“There is a need to reskill and re-educate officials. There is just no cross-cutting culture of innovation, modernisation and professionalisation – things are done in a silo mentality.”

Younger targets

Makhasi reflected that the public service is faced with an aging workforce, which is why the DPSA has implemented the FOW ambassadors programme, to spur the recruitment of skilled young people into government.

The initiative forms part of government’s growth path and succession planning.

She revealed there is a high number of older public servants, who are between the ages of 45 and 55, in critical positions.

According to the DG, the statistics show that of the 1.2 million fulltime public servants, the number of senior management service (SMS) members, which are directors upwards, is 9 309. Only 117 members of the SMS are below the age of 35.

“Even those 117 members, the majority are in political offices – they are not in the mainstream bureaucracy because it’s easier for young people to get into the public service at a management level through the political offices because of the recruitment approach in the political offices compared to the mainstream public service.”

She explained the annual performance plans require government to have 30% of young people in departments as a start. However, in a department like the DPSA, for example, that figure is only at 10% at the moment. “We need to reach 30% by the end of this financial year.”

Makhasi encouraged the participants of the FOW programme to review it as a mechanism not only to bring in young people, but to support those who are already in the public service system to learn as much as possible.

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