South Africa is not doing nearly enough to ready school-leavers to engage and fill important vacant roles within the country's ICT sector.
Information security and cyber security skills remain at the top of the priority list and there are new priorities for emerging skill sets including AI, IOT and payment systems.
This is according to a 2018 ICT Skills Survey, jointly conducted and released by the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA).
Adrian Schofield, Programme Consultant at the IITPSA NPC, presented findings at a briefing held at the Wanderers Club, Johannesburg, yesterday.
After ten years of releasing skills-related research – and despite government's continued claim it is emphasising STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – there is insufficient investment in basic education to create a pool of young people interested in-and capable of being engaged in ICT activities as they emerge from the schooling system.
Schofield said, "Whether they go on to university, to the work environment or whether they go into vocational training, they must be ready to move into that environment. It is becoming more and more critical as more and more roles in the economy are dependent on technology."
The fundamental issue is a lack of change in the school curriculum and the way in which subjects are taught at school.
"Although the government periodically makes statements about placing more emphasis on maths, science, technology subjects, we don't see that translated into action across the majority of schools. There are pockets of excellence, as there always are in South Africa, but that is not going to transform the ability of the country to use technology to enable economic and social growth," Schofield continued.
He said that there was an urgent need for change in the way basic education delivers educated children at matric level.
Industry must unite
Schofield believes industry needs to unite around this message in order to lobby government more effectively.
"We spend enormous amounts of money on education, but it is not delivering the results and it is depriving young people of the opportunity to be economically active because they don't have the right foundation through their school years."
However, Schofield does not believe ICT is losing its appeal among school-leavers. He said it is a case of the sector only reaching out to a small percentage of them, simply because it is not visible in most schools.
He said educators need a better understanding of the role of technology and its potential in the schooling system, as well as in the lives of learners.
There needs to be more aggressive progress on ineffective initiatives, like SA Connect, that were established to provide widespread access to broadband connectivity and the benefits of digital migration, according to Schofield.
"There are so many initiatives that are delayed or don't happen. Without that (the population) can't get any benefit from being engaged with technology. We haven't, apart from making noises in the last month or so, moved forward on the migration to digital terrestrial television. Without access to that, households will not even begin to understand what benefits will come from having a digital connection to broadcasting as opposed to an analogue one. All of these things come together to make sure that we are depriving ourselves of an engaged future with technology."
Schofield also highlighted the lack of coordination between government departments, SETAs and other key stakeholders around the need for skills development within the sector, as well as the need for valid information upon which to base policy and decisions to develop new initiatives.
"Although we are suffering a stagnant economy, the demand for ICT skills remains relatively high. The challenge we have is we are not bringing new entrants into the sector in a broad range of roles, whether developers or infrastructure people," said Schofield. "We need a realistic grasp on the pipeline that's needed to create skills."
He believes while there are signs of "better engagement" between industry and government, it is too early to say whether this will be effective engagement or mere rhetoric.