On Tuesday 5 December 2017, Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) released its 2017 JCSE ICT Skills Survey. According to the orgaisation, economic pressure, a delay in policy implementation and lack of improvement in South Africa’s basic education are key concerns in the country’s ICT field. The report says the situation is further plagued by a lack of current, coordinated data about the ICT sector in South Africa, which is leading to fragmented policy initiatives, that cannot be properly measured.
With an objective to identify the most pressing skills needs from the corporate perspective, balanced with the view of current skills capacity of practitioners and future skills development, Adrian Schofield, JCSE’s manager of Applied Research and author of the report, says that the 2017 JCSE ICT Skills Survey report highlights the increased demand for cybersecurity practitioners as well as the growth in software development: “In some respects, it is more of the same, but there is an undeniable urgency to make progress if South Africa is to benefit from the impending global upswing in the ICT market, which is estimated to reach US$4 trillion in 2018. In this scenario, demand for relevant skills will continue to outstrip supply, giving South Africa an opportunity to empower its Black youth to fill the gap, boost the economy and extend these benefits into the broader continent.”
The Survey further outlines that while the stagnant South African economy continues to restrict growth in the demand for ICT skills due to limited budgets, the global recession of recent years seems to be abating: “Demand in Europe and the United States for ICT skills is generally strong, yet despite this upswing, 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,” says Schofield.
According to MICT SETA 2017, the ICT sector is estimated to contribute more than R250 billion (approximately 6%) to the country’s R4 trillion GDP. Schofield says that South Africa, and all its stakeholders, need to recognise their dependence on ICT and what needs to be done with a greater sense of urgency: “We as a collective body need to actively address and acknowledge the need for investment in teaching and training; the potential contribution to society that filling the ICT skills gap will make; the benefits that can come from better coordination and planning; and also the urgent need to move plans from discussion to execution.”
Another concern according to Schofield is the delays in implementing policies, such as the migration from analogue television signals and the rollout of broadband networks. This, he says, continues to frustrate the potential contribution of the ICT sector to the overall economy.
Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE, says that the report yet again emphasises the concern at the lack of improvement in South Africa’s basic education for the majority of pupils: “Exposure to and familiarity with ICT for all learners is essential, in order to equip them to adapt the modern tools to their daily lives. Some laudable initiatives have appeared, such as the use of tablets in Gauteng schools, but they have yet to reach a sustained, critical mass for all grades of learners.”
He says that there are some successful initiatives and interventions noted in the skills development pipeline. Children are benefiting from technology in the classroom, such as VastraTech’s ‘Wired for Life’ project, and training programmes from companies like Google and SAP. “Young people can engage with activities in technology hubs, such as the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, where they can acquire not only technical skills, but also get exposure to entrepreneur development and business incubation,” concluded Dwolatzky.