Addressing the ICT skills shortage in SA
By Frik van der Westhuizen, CEO of EQPlus
South Africa is currently experiencing a massive shortage of ICT skills. According to recent research, the country lacks at least 70 000 ICT professionals, which is further exacerbated by the declining number of graduates. The 2022 Critical Skills List published by government at the beginning of the year highlights the need for ICT talent ranging from data scientists and software developers to network analysts and cyber security specialists. Addressing this is no easy task.
The 2021 ICT Skills Survey reinforced the perception that the skills gap here is widening. Its authors suggested that addressing this can be twofold. Firstly, it is about getting learners comfortable with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and providing them with opportunities to gain practical experience. Secondly, future-proofing qualifications needs to be a priority. This entails completing a tertiary degree to understand learning beyond school level. This should be followed by getting the foundational skills necessary for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) via internships, online courses or the like. Fundamental to this, according to the authors, is having the awareness that these technical skills will require many hours of practice.
Prioritising the right skills
The World Economic Forum believes that building the right talent for the digital world of the future is a key component if the ICT skills shortage is to be overcome. It writes: "Many students currently enrolled in South Africa’s tertiary institutions are studying subjects that do not support the need in business for STEM as well as future-oriented skills. Many organisations face the challenge of finding appropriately trained graduates with complex problem-solving skills, critical thinking, good judgment and decision-making, as well as cognitive flexibility."
Attracting and retaining top talent has always been a challenge for any corporate. But in the wake of the pandemic, this becomes even more so as people start looking for those organisations who can provide them with a hybrid work environment, a better balance when it comes to their personal lives and other benefits beyond a competitive salary.
The past two years have highlighted the importance of upskilling and reskilling. Those individuals already in the workforce who have embraced this have become attractive targets as they will continue to push themselves to stay relevant in a 4IR environment. For their part, students and graduates must also continually look for ways to enrich themselves with the practical skills essential for a digital workforce.
Companies must do more to benefit from graduate programmes. Of course, it takes time and an investment of resources to manage such an initiative, but the advantage is growing people with the relevant skillsets and experience to benefit the organisation.
Leveraging the expertise of staff to become coaches for these graduates is part of the long-term planning essential for addressing the ICT skills shortage. This coaching can extend beyond graduates to include other employees who can discover new passions about 4IR fields they never knew they had.
As the adoption of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation increase, companies can automate menial tasks and repurpose employees for more strategic functions. In all likelihood, these functions will have a technological feel to them, further strengthening the ICT skillset of the business.
Addressing the ICT skills shortage is not something that will happen overnight. But it does require an organisational will to change and build skills for the future workplace.
“EQPlus understands what is required today to have a balanced ICT workforce in the future; together with our customers, we form and build partnerships conducive to transform the graduates of today into sought after and productive ICT resources tomorrow,” says Frik van der Westhuizen, CEO of EQPlus Technologies.