Business growth is outpacing skills development
Author: Rodney Weidemann
Issued: Thursday, November 09, 2006
ITWeb survey finds 'trickle' of graduates, but massive industry growth expected
THE ISSUE OF SKILLS development is one which affects most industries,
but is particularly prevalent in the IT sector because of the rapid
pace at which this industry changes and the speed of technological
Africa also labours under other requirements that are unique to this
country, such as the need to fulfil black economic empowerment (BEE)
imperatives which, in turn, greatly reduce the available pool of
skilled candidates and leads to yet another skills issue, namely
Professor Barry Dwolatzky
seems that with the lack of - in particular - black skills in certain
IT disciplines, poaching is something companies will have to learn to
live with for a while, although the conundrum is that because there is
currently a limited pool of skilled black professionals to choose from
in this sector, and because so much poaching occurs, many companyies
are loathe to spend time and effort on providing skills to employees
who may be easily stolen away soon after.
to Gartner, SA's labour pool is already critically stretched and will
need to skill up drastically in order to achieve government's aim of
positioning the country as an outsource destination.
ITWeb's recent IT Skills Survey has revealed that this is easier said
than done, with massive growth in this industry expected in the next 12
months, while the number of graduates emerging from tertiary
institutions with IT-related skills is a mere trickle in comparison.
seems that organisations need to bite the bullet and put far more
effort into skills development and training than they do currently,
although it must be remembered that training for the sake of training
does not create employment. What is needed is skills development that
is in line with market needs.
BACKGROUND TO THE SKILLS SURVEY
questionnaire used was developed by ITWeb in conjunction with Fidentia
and was focused on responses from both staff and management, in order
to get both sides of the picture, with the data also analysed by the
The objectives of the survey were to:
* Analyse the current and future needs for IT skills and the capabilities in the local corporate environment,
* Discover what local companies are doing to attract and retain in-house skills,
* Look at what capabilities will be required to meet these skills development needs,
* Understand which skills are most in demand, and
* What business and soft skills are needed most.
The total sample group for the survey was 655 respondents, of which 489 comprised the useable sample.
of the sample showed yet again the preponderance of males in this
sector of the industry, with 80% of respondents falling into this
category; 60% of these were between the ages of 26 and 40.
vast majority (85%) were in permanent employment, while 13% were
contractors, and most respondents (71%) were based in Gauteng, with 18%
from the Western Cape.
to Jaco Viljoen, principle consultant at Software Futures, the fact
that talent is becoming harder to find is something of a global trend,
with companies around the world battling it out for the brainpower of a
limited number of individuals. Since SA is part of the global village,
it means we are also competing for these brains.
key trend in the industry is that the workload on IT staff is
increasing significantly, with 54% feeling that this is the case, while
a further 35% reckon that it has increased somewhat," he says.
Jaco Viljoen, principle consultant at Software Futures
of this is down to the fact that the sector is a rapidly growing one,
while it is also in part due to staff being readied for management
positions. But the real question is, if they are moved into this new
role, who replaces them?" What this boils down to is that although the
IT industry as a whole is growing, so, too, is the skills shortage.
Where skills are most noticeably lacking is in the fields of process
management, configuration and change management, and development,
closely followed by testing, business analysis and architecture skills.
are areas where the available skills are considered 'just right', and
these include IT infrastructure management, team leadership and systems
analysis, followed by design, systems engineering and package
implementation," he says.
he says there are ways for the industry to address the shortages
affecting it, both in the short term and in the longer term.
begin with, leverage the skills you already have in your organisation
by putting employees with the necessary skills into roles where they
can do the most good.
the longer term, seek to develop skills within your company using a mix
of formal and informal approaches in order to achieve both
classroom-based and experience-based learning.
if it is needed, import the skills you lack by bringing people with the
right skills into your organisation, but ensure that you assess their
fit within the business, plan their work and support them as needed."
it comes to what companies are doing to address the shortage, there is
an even split between organisations providing sponsored training and
those encouraging staff to develop further skills on their own, while a
further 17% are addressing the problem through recruitment, rather than
almost equal number of respondents in the survey felt that the
executive management team was responsible for training (18%) and felt
that the onus lay on themselves for this (17%), while a further 16%
held that it was the responsibility of the CIO of the organisation.
when it came down to the manner in which such training was conducted,
the company and the individual differed quite markedly.
says that an organisation that wishes to put together a skills training
programme should do the following: firstly, such a programme requires a
sponsor from the executive management team, although the choice of what
training should be done must be left up to the individual. This
training should be educational training, followed by on-the-job
coaching or mentoring, with the mentor then reporting back on the
progress made to the sponsor.
holistic skills profile should contain elements of people skills and
process skills, as well as technology skills, and where these three
areas overlap are where the most attention should be paid, since this
is where the problems often hide.
survey also brought to our attention which people, process and
technology skills are considered to be 'hot property'," he says.
top three people skills are negotiation skills (19%), followed by
work/life balance and stress management (both 18%), while the important
process skills are SAP modules (23%), software development process and
process assessment and improvement (both 12%). As for technology
skills, Microsoft .Net comes in tops with 17%, automated testing is
second with 16%, and 15% of respondents thought that BPM - IBM
Websphere skills were vital."
points out that although 54% thought their workload had increased
substantially over the past year, the majority of people were still
satisfied with their career, and this was due to companies providing
training or professional development, offering flexible hours and
offering incentives and bonuses.
the challenge of the job, the work atmosphere, total compensation,
quality of top management and career prospects were all listed as key
factors in job satisfaction, it is interesting to note that IT comes in
at number one on the list of top ten most stressful professions."
RISKS AND OPPORTUNITIES
to John Mullins, general manager at People Futures, it is expected that
by 2010, six out of ten roles in IT will be business-facing, as people
move away from being pure technologists to becoming more versatile
professionals with business minds.
He claims that 10% to 15% of people in the sector may leave it, due to a lack of interest and the automation of tasks.
skills problem is not only affecting SA, as globally, those
undergraduates listing computer sciences as a major dropped by an
incredible 70% from 2000 to 2004, which flies in the face of statistics
that suggest that by 2012 one in four jobs will be IT-related," he
says. "This lack of interest is generally put down to the perceived
threat of outsourcing to a long-term career, the after-effects of the
dotcom meltdown and the increasing attraction of other disciplines,
such as biological studies."
says that locally, the survey showed that there is a definite need for
skils in certain areas, since specific job functions appear destined to
witness huge growth, most notably in the areas of applications
development, systems analysis and database management.
are a number of perceived risks in the sector that affect a company's
decisions with regard to skills development. These include the risk of
placing lower quality staff in positions they cannot handle or where
the job is beyond their capability and the development of an elite
minority that are adopting a mercenary approach to their careers. These
are the highly skilled individuals who seem to sell their skills to the
highest bidder, rather than offering a company any loyalty. "There is
also the risk of serious delays occurring on projects, due to
insufficient skilled labour, an increased poaching of the available
talent by rival organisations and due to this, the problem of certain
businesses keeping their own talent 'underdeveloped' or less skilled,
in order to make them less attractive to competitors."
Ultimately, however, Mullins be-lieves that there are also opportunities to be had for those farsighted enough to see them.
should look to convert hard IT skills to a more business focused
approach, to ensure that staff are more versatile, while instituting
endearment programmes for contractors and permanent staff mean that the
skilled individuals working for the corporation will feel like they're
wanted," he says.
importantly, graduate recruitment is essential, and it is imperative
that organisations work hand in hand with the tertiary education
institutions to develop programmes that will benefit the graduates and
THE EDUCATION VIEW
Barry Dwolatzky, academic director at the Johannesburg Centre for
Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University, agrees that such
graduate programmes are key, but he says that the real problem the
industry faces is the lack of high-school students with the correct
background to work in IT.
real bottleneck is at school level, where far too few learners are
taking mathematics and science through to matric, meaning that they do
not have the necessary subjects behind them to pursue a career in the
sector," he says.
it is virtually impossible to teach these skills at tertiary level,
since one needs the years of background in maths and science that can
only be gained at high school."
says that the real area where such education needs to be done is at
primary school level, where teachers and parents should be making the
children aware of the importance that a background in those subjects
could have on their potential future careers.
key skills gaps that have been identified by government are in the
middle and lower level skills, and programmes are in place to fill
these gaps, but the critical areas are in project management,
architects and designers.
is needed here is to educate small numbers of black graduates and
postgraduates to fill these specific areas within the industry," he
SA generally supports a 'conventional' supply chain for skills, namely
the move from school to university and on to recruitment, because of
the bottleneck created by a lack of maths and science knowledge, we
also require unconventional approaches."
says that examples of unconventional options include the work being
done by Wits University in conjunction with the ICT sector to pilot
Level-7 learnerships in software engineering and telecoms engineering,
the JCSE itself, which has been launched as an academic, government and
industry initiative to develop high-level skills and promote best
practice, as well as a CPD programme which will lead to a Master's
much work remains to be done if we are to achieve what we require, and
it needs to be done via a whole range of players coming together to
develop these skills. We need contributions from academia - at
tertiary, secondary and primary level - as well as from government and
the ICT sector at large."
DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF THE GOAL
the IT sector in South Africa appears to be growing at an enormous
rate. This is leading to the massive skills shortage the industry
faces, meaning that companies need to seriously focus on developing the
critical skills that are currently lacking, as there are only so many
already-skilled people to go around.
has launched a number of initiatives to help overcome the shortage, as
have the tertiary education institutions, but it is vital that as early
as primary school level, children are being taught that mathematics and
science are crucial to their future careers, since all the programmes
in the world cannot help organisations to develop the necessary skills
if the foundation is not there.
should seek to align their IT skills development programmes with
employees' preferences, as well as industry best practices, and they
need to be wary of poachers.
the focus should be on developing key skills in individuals, but
attention should also be paid to the team's effectiveness.
road ahead may appear difficult, but with the commitment of all
stakeholders - the IT sector, government and the various education
institutions - the skills destination can be reached, as long as no one
loses sight of the goal.