Bridging the tech skills gap in South Africa

By: Chad Baker, MD
Altron Systems Integration

Digital transformation is a top priority for most businesses in South Africa, but talent transformation needs to be a priority too. We are seeing profound shifts in the business landscape, accelerated by the requirement for more remote work and the growth of the digital economy, and this means that businesses need a new set of skills to thrive in this new era. As businesses engage in the process of re-skilling, we also have the opportunity to broaden our employee base to better reflect the demographics of South Africa.

At Altron, we recognise the importance of hiring diverse teams. South Africa has the potential to create thousands of jobs in the ICT industry. By focusing on disadvantaged candidates for recruitment and partnering with Qualifying Small Enterprises (QSEs) and Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in our supply chain, we have the opportunity to create lasting change in communities across the country.

Digital skills are becoming more mainstream. By 2030, an estimated 230 million jobs in Africa will require digital skills, according to the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank, with a relatively small proportion in the traditional tech sectors of ICT and e-commerce.

Without appropriately-skilled workers, the promise of the digital economy will be difficult to realise on our continent, and economic growth is likely to remain limited. South Africa, as the most industrialised country in the region, must take a leading role in bridging this skills gap.

This is especially important with the African Union’s plans to establish a digital single market in Africa by 2030, as part of its Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa. This would require digital economies to be networked and collaborative across borders, as well as affordable access to data and online e-skills training.

Many organisations expect to see a significant increase in their use of artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive technologies, robotic process automation (RPA) and robotics over the next three years, amplifying the need for digital skills. More than two-thirds of organisations say they don’t have adequate skills for the digital economy. Skills in application development, cloud, security, big data, and AI are all in short supply.

South African businesses are stepping up to the plate and investing in tech and digital training programmes. However, the scale of the problem is such that there continues to be a lag, particularly in finding staff for mid-level jobs.

Like many other ICT companies, we struggle to find candidates with the right level of experience.

We do have candidates with the right education level, but finding candidates with both technical and soft skills presents another challenge.

This indicates that there is a gap for management-level employees – where soft skills become particularly important – and for more experienced employees who have enough work experience to be able to work independently without close supervision.

At the same time, there’s room for existing workers to add new skills so that they’re 4IR-ready.

We are committed to transforming our workforce and to lowering the barrier to accessing these skills. That’s why we are investing in skills development initiatives and promoting tech careers as a platform for fair progression and meaningful, lifelong learning and enjoyment.

We are also resetting recruitment to focus less on traditional education and more up skills – a move that will open up digital roles to a wider, more diverse talent pool. This is the beginning of an initiative towards the creation of non-traditional pathways into the tech industry.

As one of the country’s largest end-to-end ICT service providers, we are spending over R10 million a year on internships, certifications and online learning. This includes Java Script learnerships, internships for data, cloud, and devops, as well as online learning and mentorship for existing employees.

If we successfully bridge this skills gap, South Africa could become a centre of excellence for ICT and digital skills, offering services not only locally but also internationally.

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