IT skills gap may thwart SA’s tech boom

Hopes that liberalisation of the telecoms sector will let SA use new technologies to catch up in the global economy could be thwarted by a severe skills crisis. Firms eager to use cost cutting technologies face another hurdle in finding people able to implement and manage them.  The skills shortage could damage government’s chance of achieving its growth targets, research house IDC has warned.

Last year, companies were unable to fill 70,500 networking jobs, according to IDC. That will grow to 113,900 by 2009 as more companies implement sophisticated networks.  The research, commissioned by Cisco Systems, has not revealed anything the industry did not already know, but it has quantified the scale of the problem.

Chief information officers reported 34,000 vacancies for people with general network technology skills last year, with IDC predicting a shortage of 44,200 by 2009. For advanced technology skills such as security, internet protocol telephony and wireless networking, there were 36,500 vacancies last year. That will grow to 69,700 in 2009, representing a 30% shortfall in supply versus demand. Advanced skills have become more important as networks are utterly crucial in supporting business processes.

All the respondents said in the past they had recruited purely locally. In the future, 14% expect to recruit internationally to find more advanced skills. Many hope to recruit South Africans who are coming home after gaining experience abroad.

“We needed to get an understanding of where the skills gap is,” said Cisco SA GM Clive Fynn.

Companies can still find general networking skills relatively easily, particularly if they are willing to hire employees with little work experience.

“If you need a specialist in wireless you can pick them out from under any tree, but advanced skills are very difficult to find,” he said.

Cisco is keen to share its findings with government, educational institutes and other IT firms to see what can be done to boost SA’s IT training capacity.

“We are saying there’s a serious problem here because if we are going to contribute to the technological advancement of this continent, the government needs to co-invest.

“Everybody in the networking market has to collaborate much more closely. We need a few changes and one is a change to the basic curriculums taught at schools,” Fynn said.

Cisco is working with the education ministry and the Western Cape government to try to influence school curriculums.

Numerous firms and organisations are clamouring to put forward their ideas of what should be taught in schools, but Cisco says it has piqued the education department’s attention.

“Government has been very clear that if we are to going to transform the working environment, one of the key fields we need to promote is science and technology.”

Cisco has also partnered with the Nelson Mandela University and the Cape Peninsular University of Technology to create training courses that offer what the market needs. But the pace at which educational institutes evolve means it will be next June before the new curriculums are even introduced, and far longer before the first graduates reach the market.

Those university courses will include internships with hi-tech companies to give the students work experience and make them marketable once they graduate.

Cisco runs its own two-year internship courses, but with only 10 people going through the system each year, its effect on the skills gap is almost negligible.

[Source: Business Day]

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