South African employers recruit overseas amid ICT skills crisis

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New data shows that South Africa faces a growing Information and communications technology (ICT) skills crisis of immense proportions.

A Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) ICT Skills Survey has found that the percentage of corporates recruiting skills from overseas has more than doubled over the past two years.

“In retail and distribution, with a specific focus on consumers, there are simply not enough skilled people with the technical savvy to understand the differences in the latest technology,” said Werner Joubert, product country head at Asus.

But it is at corporate level where there is a real skills crisis at almost every ICT level, which has a dire effect on South African businesses.

“According to the 2016 JCSE ICT Skills Survey – released in July – back in 2010, 45% of respondents reported the skills shortage was negatively impacting their businesses,” said Joubert.

“In the following four years, the figure remained steady at around 60% to 66%. But in 2016, the gap jumped again with 71% of businesses stating at least a major effect, while as much as 29% say it is a threat to their viability.”

SA a destination of choice

Joubert said that in 2015, industry insiders were reporting that South Africa needed between 30,000 and 70,000 skilled IT workers.

“This year, the ICT Skills Survey found this shortage so considerable that the percentage of corporates recruiting overseas has more than doubled, from only 12% in 2014 to 26% this year.”

The survey found that, of the few respondents who did specify their sources, many preferred African countries, while previous source countries had been India or those situated in Eastern Europe.

“According to the JCSE, South Africa remains a destination of choice for ICT practitioners, as exemplified by what it says is a steady stream of applications for ‘critical skills visas’,” he added.

“But looking inside South Africa, it is disturbing that the survey argues we cannot afford to continue relying on an education system that isn’t creating a new generation of young people who are not only knowledgeable about technology and its application in daily life, but who are also interested in developing and implementing ICTs and who are work-ready once they leave the education system,” Joubert said.

Where to study?

The Media, Information, and Communications Technologies (MICT) Sector Education and Training authority’s Skills List 2015/2016 points to a great many avenues into IT; from bachelor degrees to diplomas, national certificates, learnerships, and apprenticeships to international certifications from the likes of Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle, and CompTIA.

The JCSE survey found that pre-hiring qualifications and certifications in 2016 has changed significantly from previous years, with internationally recognised standards replacing graduate degrees and industry association certificates moving into third place.

While vendor certificates are still the least-rated in the recruiting process, they are highly-prized as indicators of ability to support specific products or technologies during the course of employment, said Asus.

“As for training, little has changed in the past few years; employers still prefer on-site training to off-site, with knowledge sharing with peers follows self-study (discs/ videos/books and e-Learning) as the top scores on-site,” Joubert said.

The JCSE noted that more than half of all CIOs surveyed in South Africa say they have an active IT internship or apprenticeship programme in their organisations.

Off-site, academic institutions are just ahead of vendors and commercial training companies as the venue or supplier of choice, it said.

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