The low number of skills in the ICT sector is not unique to South Africa but the country could be doing a lot better than its counterparts in Africa if its government prioritised investment in ICT skills. That is according to the latest findings of the annual Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) ICT Skills survey.
Adrian Schofield, Manager of the Applied Research Unit at the JCSE says the state of the South African economy continues to restrict growth in ICT skills development with client's limiting their budgets.
"The global recession of recent years seems to be abating and demand in Europe and the United States for ICT skills is generally strong. South Africa is lagging its peers in Africa (notably Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt) who continue to seek the value that technology adds to economic growth and social development. Delays in implementing policies, such as the migration from analogue television signals and the rollout of broadband networks continue to frustrate the potential contribution of the ICT sector to the overall economy. We emphasise again our concern at the lack of improvement in South Africa's basic education for the majority of pupils."
The survey found that the percentage of employers recruiting overseas in 2017 has increased again to 29% this year from the 26% recorded last year.
Some of the respondents indicated their preference for Southern African countries and India.
Schofield says the increase in respondents recruiting overseas suggests a continuing scarcity of locally available candidates with experience.
"Last April, Google pledged to train one million young people in digital skills across Africa and recently announced it exceeded that goal. The trainees in the last eleven months came from 27 different countries, but the majority were based in Nigeria (450 000), Kenya (400 000) and SA (70 000), with 53% men and 47% women. Google says the low number in SA is due to the lack of buy-in from government and universities."
Schofield does not anticipate an exodus of skilled Zimbabwean nationals who currently ply their trade in South Africa due to a change in the political leadership of that country.
Demand for big data/ analytics skills
The ICT Skills Survey shows a significant demand for big data design or analytics skills, followed by information security and this will continue into 2018.
Survey results also show that respondents are satisfied with the volume of skills supplied within implementation/ support and project management, and do not anticipate supply issues going forward.
In 2017, the impact of a lack of ICT skills on business was measured at 75%.
At the release of the survey results, Moira De Roche, Chairperson of IP3 (International Professional Practice Partnership) emphasised that recent events show that a supply of skilled professionals in ICT is as important as it is in fields such as medicine or engineering.
"We often hear that the lack of ICT skills is not life threatening, but when the NHS was hacked, people who came in for care maybe got the wrong medicine because they didn't have access to their records. So it is life threatening."
The survey found that the profile of the average ICT practitioner remains a white male in his thirties who likely has a tertiary degree and has been working for ten or more years.
The JCSE says the 2018 survey will include a new section on the impact of B-BBEE skills development initiatives.