Are PPPs the solution to SA's developer skills crisis?

South Africa's software development industry believes it is experiencing a skills crisis, particularly with regards to app development. Educators on the front-line of ICT skills development believe increased collaboration between academic institutions and businesses will help to restore balance within the ever-decreasing developer skills pool.

According to a report published by Quartz Africa in July 2016, South Africa's shortage of developers is described as 'chronic' and though the country is said to be Africa's most advanced economy and best positioned to train future programmers for the digital economy, traditional challenges have impacted its tech environment.

In Africa, there are examples of how developers are looking to monetise their offerings and establish themselves in an increasingly competitive space.

Okal Otieno, Obat Okello and David Ngugi, from JUMO's local office in the Westlands region of Kenya, made headlines after they were invited to the 2017 edition of Mobile World Congress following their win at the Mobile Money API Hackathon during the GSMA's Mobile 360 Africa Series which took place in Dar es Salaam last year.

In February Facebook launched its Bots for Messenger Developer Challenge in Africa and the Middle East, challenging developers to create innovative bots and compete for US$20,000 in prize money.

ITWeb's 2016 IT salary survey revealed that software architects are among the industry's top earners, with packages ranging from R875 000 for software architects and R742 000 for system architects.

The software development space seems to be growing and this is front-of-mind for those tasked with skills transfer and development.

Talent programme

"It's commonplace for experienced software developers to get distracted by weekly job offers from organisations desperate for their skills, or to move overseas to earn in dollars," says Selene Shah, Talent, Learning and Culture Lead at Durban-based digital consultancy immedia.

The consultancy has partnered with the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) to guide 3rd-year students through its Head Start internship programme, equipping them with the benefit of work-based learnership in preparation for entry into South Africa's digital sector.

The aim of the programme is to bridge the gap that exists between tertiary education and full-time employment in a functioning app development environment. So there is a strong recruitment component to the partnership.

While MUT has already adopted the co-learning model to ensure students graduate with work experience, those who are not given this requirement in tertiary can still apply for immedia's internship programme.

This part of the Head Start model allows students to commence their internship 'remotely' in their final semester while still completing their campus lectures and assignments.

In 2016, four interns selected for this process from the class of 2015 managed to secure employment, according to immedia.

"Our overall aim is to empower learners to pursue a globally relevant career in IT, with a view to growing and empowering our community," says Shah.

"Tertiary institutions would not be able to keep up with (the) constant changing landscape of technologies and, in our experience, are doing a good job of- and need to keep on teaching the fundamental languages. It's up to the job market to bridge the gap with the knowledge of how projects are run or how products are created and teams work in their environment, as well as sharing the 'soft skills' necessary for new employees," she adds.

Emerging talent

This week, three 3rd year Computer Systems Engineer students from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) competed in the Huawei 2016 – 2017 ICT Skills Competition hosted in Shenzhen, China.

A total of 32 teams, each comprising three students, sat through a final 8-hour exam which tested their knowledge of routers, switching, security, WLAN, cloud, storage and big data.

The South African team, along with a team from the Guangdong province in China, beat off a pool of 7 500 contenders, to claim first prize.

Fumani Shibambu, Themba Sivate and Sidwell Shalang agreed that the competition was more challenging than expected, and specified the pressure to manage online tech in real-time using a number of different devices.

For their efforts, the trio received a trophy, laptops and certification in cloud computing, which they acknowledge will help them to gain a foothold in the market.

Their plan is to start a business, engage with potential partners as soon as possible and also maintain close contact with Huawei as they seek to establish themselves and compete.

Shah adds, "The post-PC revolution gives rise to 'brain-ready' jobs – careers that can be made by people of any level of education, economic background, or gender. In this industry, all we need is a computing device, an internet connection and someone to teach us, and we can have a globally-competitive career wherever we are."