South Africa is facing a chronic digital skills gap when it comes to our Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector. This sector has proved to be the backbone of economies and it is vital that South African businesses and the government address the lack of skills in this industry. South Africa’s telecommunications sector has shown continual growth and development, despite clear economic challenges. However, despite this growth in the ICT sector, there is a lack of emphasis placed on the need for continuous upskilling of workers in this ever-changing environment.
WHY IS THERE AN ICT SKILL SHORTAGE IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN LABOUR MARKET?
There are several contributing factors that have accelerated the ICT skills gap in South Africa. Firstly, there is a disconcerting lack of training in the ICT sector, both from employees investment as well as relevant training programs. This is further complicated by the ICT environment’s rapidly changing dynamics leading to a greater need for the upskilling of workers to remain ahead of new technologies. An example of new technologies is the integration of analogue voice and digital voice into SIP that requires employee training to understand and implement this new technology. According to the World Economic Forum more than half (54%) of all employees will require significant upskilling by 2022.
Secondly, there is an exodus of knowledgeable workers in the industry. One of the many reasons for this is that the ICT workers that formed the backbone of the industry are reaching retirement age. This signifies a significant loss to the ICT sector as there are few skilled individuals to take their place.
Thirdly, with the rates wars currently mapping the industry, this has resulted in a reducting of margin available to support skills and training needed to ensure the industry’s success.
Lastly, the ICT market’s ability to continually grow during economic challenges has made the ICT market attractive to new entrants. This has led to an influx of telecom companies coming to market which has dramatically increased demand for skilled ICT professionals. This increased demand is highly outranking South Africa’s current supply.
THE DIRE ICT SKILL GAP IN SOUTH AFRICA
The major factors influencing the skills gap in South Africa is:
- A lack of digital skills within existing workforces
- A lack of properly trained ICT graduates to fill digital positions in technological industries
- Revenue streams to ensure ICT success
These factors pose significant inhibitions to growth in South African businesses and South Africa’s economy which ultimately is dependant on a successful ICT economy.
According to Amrote Abdella, Regional Director of Microsoft 4Afrika, the significant need for investment in infrastructure and technology investment in the ICT sector cannot happen without the human infrastructure to support these technologies. She stresses the need for strong ICT skills in South Africa.
According to a survey commissioned by Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator titled MAPPING OF DIGITAL AND ICT ROLES AND DEMAND IN SOUTH AFRICA, in November 2020, it was already evident that the skills crisis is costly to South Africa, with a staggering 69% of survey respondents indicating that they outsource digital work and expertise to other countries. It is estimated that over 28,800 digital and ICT jobs have been outsourced to other countries. This poses an estimated lost export revenue of approximately R8.5 billion per annum. This is capital that could be used to contribute to the success of South Africa’s economy.
The 2021 ICT Skills Survey that assessed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations on working conditions, skills, demand, and supply in SA, found that about 10 000 positions in the ICT sector were hard-to-fill due to a lack of highly skilled individuals. This further reiterates the need for sophisticated training in the ICT sector.
HOW DO WE BRIDGE THIS GAP?
According to e4’s Chief Information Officer, Fikile Sibiya, the ideal approach would be a partnership between HR and CIOs to take leadership in addressing the skills gap evident in South Africa. This partnership has the potential to deliver the essential quality of training, reskilling, and upskilling in this industry.
According to Deon Munn, CEO of Telesa Comms, this however on its own will not ensure success. As part of a strategy to ensure success in South Africa, we need to follow international ICT HR trends where contracting skills as opposed to employing skills is becoming the natural route to follow.