South Africa has a shortage of IT skills

There is a stunning shortage of skilled workers in the information and communication technology (ICT) field in South Africa. The recent crisis in Eskom and other big companies in South Africa is a fool proof of that. Without skilled workers even the world's biggest corporate players can suffer so much. A report from the department of labour says there were 484 000 skilled jobs that were advertised last year (2014) in South Africa and were not taken up by anyone. That is why the government is looking forward to recruiting people from outside the country to come and take up the jobs which South Africans are not qualified to do.

Universities are not producing sufficient numbers of graduates with the right levels of technical expertise to enable, grow and competitively position businesses in the African markets.

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs, for instance, has issued a detailed list of open technical jobs in the nation. This list points to a need for nearly 3,000 software and application programmers, nearly 3,000 project and other managers, and 1,600 information and communications technology support technicians.

Considering that market researcher IDC predicts that information-technology spend in sub-Saharan Africa will rise 9.9% in 2011 (year-on-year growth from 2010) to cross the $23 billion mark, there will be an even larger hunger for IT-trained workers in the very near future.

“What seems to becoming more apparent is not just the size of the shortage but the specific areas of skills shortage” says Ravi Bhat, Software Group Executive for IBM South Africa.

According to IBM’s recently published 2011 IBM Tech Trends Report , which surveyed more than 4000 IT professionals from 93 countries and 25 different industries, mobile computing, cloud computing, social business and business analytics have gone beyond niche technology status and are now part of any modern organisation’s core IT focus.

“This means that IT professionals who can develop the skills needed to work across these technologies will be ready to meet growing business demand in the coming years.”

“What’s more these new “Big Four” technologies are more interconnected than people may think.” says Bhat. Adoption of one is driving the adoption of others (BA and Social, Mobile and Cloud, Social and Mobile).

“From a skills perspective, that means developers and students need to have a broad knowledge across all of these areas. For Business partners and entrepreneurs these areas represent exciting opportunity for growth as business demand for these types of solutions shows no signs of slowing down.”

Locally speaking, South African students and IT professionals should take heed of the following trends within this domain when deciding upon course focus areas or simply brushing up on core knowledge base:

Business Analytics

As storage capacity grows to accommodate the massive amounts of data that businesses are creating on a daily basis, so the need to understand and categorise this information in a more effective, intuitive manner has arisen. As a result, the ability to mine data and content using Business Analytics to gain greater insight into customer and market trends and subsequently change organisational habits to better suit consumer needs is a huge focus area for IT. In fact, IBM’s 2011 Tech Trends Report indicated that Business Analytics is the most in demand area for software development over the next two years – highlighting just how vital these tools have become to big business.

Mobile Computing

The business value behind mobile computing is beginning to be increasingly realised through the development of applications for mobile platforms such as RIM’s BlackBerry OS, Android, iOS and Windows 7. As a result, the global IT community is placing increasing focus on mobile development. The fact that the vast majority of mobile applications are based on Java and XML, which is an open source platform, allows professionals to benefit from a much shorter learning curve – making it easier to develop within this environment.

It should come as no surprise then that mobile computing is the second most in demand area of software development within the IBM 2011 Tech Trends Report, with three out of four survey respondents indicating that they work in this field. Furthermore, the report suggested that mobile computing will grow by 85% in the next two years.

Cloud Computing

The attraction behind the concept of cloud computing has reached a level where most businesses have invested in, or are aware of the potential benefits behind this technology.

According to IBM’s 2011 Tech Trends Report, cloud computing is a key focus area for most businesses, with over 75% of respondents indicating that their organisations will make a move toward the cloud in the next two years. Primarily, businesses are viewing cloud computing as a quick and efficient way to provision IT services without extensive capital investment. Mobile computing is also a focus here, with 51% of respondents indicating that cloud computing will form part of their organisations overall mobile strategy in the coming months.

Social Business

Although many organisations are still trying to identify how best to integrate the power and reach of tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype and Google Tools into their day to day activities there is little doubt that social business will become a key focus area for IT within the coming years.

One of the most pertinent questions surrounding this space is that of data security. As businesses branch out into social media integration the key skills requirements in this arena will undoubtedly become access control and confidential data management.

One of South Africa’s greatest tribulations of the 21st century is a sustained shortage of skills and professional expertise within key growth areas such as IT. Many experts have identified this as a major obstacle towards sustainable growth, highlighting the fact that a continued lack of core knowledge will only serve to hinder social and economic development. What is less widely acknowledged is that skills development is equally reliant on industry information as it is on available resources.

“Without key insights into the patterns and trends of emerging industries it becomes increasingly difficult to encourage professionals to give focus to these fields. Where the directions can be assessed, and a future view of the IT landscape can be attained, so too can a roadmap of the skills the IT professionals and developers need to stay a head of the curve, meet business demand and drive innovation.” concludes Bhat.
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