SA urged to launch urgent ICT skills revolution

SA needs an urgent ICT skills revolution that will drive change in the economy, creating opportunities for innovation, new products and entrepreneurship, says Partha Basu, chairman and MD at Reverside Software Solutions.

Basu, whose company also runs an ICT skills initiative, Geeks4learning, says due to the ICT skills shortage in SA and the high demand in digital transformation, the country is losing huge economic opportunities, as high-value projects are being outsourced to other countries.

In an interview with ITWeb this week, Basu said there is an urgent need for the SA’s workforce to be exposed to the global trends and immediate adoption of disruptive technologies, which, in turn, will boost economic activity.

According to Basu, of concern is access to the skills that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is going to demand, and this is a big challenge for SA going forward.

SA’s need for skills to drive 4IR is a matter that has since attracted government attention and is highlighted in a report prepared by president Cyril Ramaphosa’s commission on the 4IR.

The report, which is now government’s 4IR blueprint, says: “The purpose of the next version of our skills ecosystem will be to leapfrog our youth into productive work and reskill current workers for job retention and ongoing productive work in the economy.

“The skills demands of the 4IR era require stackable competencies, which are micro-credentialled, industry-aligned and allow people to enter and exit the system at multiple points as part of a lifelong learning process.”

The future is now

This, Basu said, presents an opportunity for both the private and public sector to invest in skills development, as the emergence of 4IR means there’s growing demand for a skilled workforce.

“There is a huge demand in both the private and public sectors in terms of ICT skills to keep pace with the growing demand in organisations to digitally transform in the 4IR era. Due to the lack of ICT skills in SA and the high demand in digital transformation, ICT projects are being outsourced to other countries such as India, which, naturally, is negatively affecting the economy and the job-market from skills upliftment and fulfilment,” Basu explained.

According to Basu, in today’s digital economy, the importance of ICT infrastructure, applications and services is growing at an alarming rate, thereby making essential skills critical.

He said: “This challenge can be… filled in with external interventions from other countries, but the focus should stay to fill in the gap locally. This can only happen with continued focus on developing local talent with the right skillsets, or it will be difficult to keep pace with the alarming growth.

“This should otherwise mean that we need to drive initiatives from the grassroots level by introducing the right programmes across high schools and universities. Even though various programmes and initiatives have been implemented in both the public and private sectors, to uplift and upskill our youth in the ICT sector, there is still a lot to be done.”

Basu noted the biggest challenge is to ensure the training offered is aligned with the industry needs and is at “the right levels of global standards in order for us, as a country, to achieve our objectives within the ICT sector”.

Through Geeks4learning, Basu’s team has trained over 400 students at no cost over the past five years, who have been deployed across industries.

Turning to disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, and how they will shape the future of SA’s workforce, Basu said: “The biggest impact on the current ICT professionals is to ensure that they are well-versed or knowledgeable in an array of ICT disciplines.

“In South Africa, we see equal focus in disruptive technologies, as more organisations are adopting these technologies not only to improve efficiencies and enhance productivity, but also to uplift customer services.

“There is but an urgent need for the youth to be exposed to the global trends and the immediate adaptation to disruptive technologies as we are encapsulated in the digital world. These disruptive technologies will govern future adoptions and trends as well; and ICT professionals must remain proactive with continuously upskilling themselves, knowing what the emerging technologies are and staying abreast with where the industry is heading.”

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