The shortage of ICT skills in South Africa is mainly due to a low interest in acquiring ICT training and qualifications and not the result of the high cost of education and training, according to the 2017 Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) ICT Skills survey.
The survey found that cost has a negligible impact on the skills base because prospective learners have a range of cost-effective options available including elearning and/ or corporate sponsorships.
Adrian Schofield, Manager of the Applied Research Unit at the JCSE says the need to generate more interest in acquiring ICT skills among South Africans is far more urgent than the need to lower the fees required by training institutions.
"I think the fees must fall (campaign) is really a diversion. It is important that education must be affordable - it's absolutely vital that it is affordable and we should make sure that not one single cent is wasted in delivering the best quality education, but education isn't free. The model of students paying for at least some of their education is accepted globally. Of more importance is that we are not creating the raw material pipeline of people who want to study in these subjects. The universities are full with students studying every subject under the sun but not enough of them are asking to study ICT related subjects and that comes from the way we encourage them at a young age and it has got nothing to do with the fees they might have to pay when they get to university."
Schofield adds that the many private sector initiatives launched to equip citizens with ICT skills require a fundamental desire to learn in order to succeed.
He believes much more should be done to invest in subject areas that best prepare learners in primary and secondary schools across the country for careers in IT.
"We are concerned that prolonged failure to improve the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) output from the education pipeline will have a serious negative impact on South Africa's ability to counter the growing risk of cybercrime attacks (estimated as costingR1 billion each year), as well as on our capacity to maintain a competitive and innovative ICT industry."
The survey found that the percentage of South African employers recruiting overseas due to a lack in the required IT competence by locals in 2017 has increased to 29% from 26% last year
India and several Southern African countries were identified as top rated destinations for recruitment.
Anton Jacobsz, Managing Director of Networks Unlimited, said, "As well as looking to short-term solutions by supporting employees in-house through internships, mentoring and on-line learning opportunities, we also need to look at our school curriculum. Here, we need to think longer-term, by starting to train learners at school level already. If we do not address the need for ICT training in schools, the cyber skills shortage today is only going to get worse into the future."
Gary Bekker, CEO at Vastratech, the IT supply company affiliated to the Gauteng Department of Education's ICT in schools programme, which includes training of 6500 teachers and 150 000 learners, said the project has been successful in stimulating interest in IT careers.
"Yes, one example of this, is a teacher at Boitumelong Secondary School. He is retiring at the end of this year and has been taken up by a private school due to his ICT skills now learned through this project and his desire to learn more."
The ICT in schools initiative which includes the production of technological equipment, a support team to assist during downtime in a classroom and curriculum design has now been extended to the provinces of Free State and Mpumalanga, albeit on a smaller scale.
The push to get more people to take up careers in ICT is not one shared by everyone working in the sector and some have advised that this be done with caution.
Kgotso Koete, a Johannesburg based Freelance Business Consultant believes that efforts to make technology and engineering more accessible are to be encouraged, although the ICT sector needs to be wary of exaggerating the importance of ICT education and training.
"One thing we might need in schools is more humanities subjects. It's weird to discuss the technology industry as though it is accessible to everyone, when it struggles with issues related to class, gender, race and other human related issues."
The JCSE says the 2018 survey set for release in the last quarter of the new year will include a new section on the impact of B-BBEE skills development initiatives.