Creating a 1,000 jobs – round pegs in round holes

By Prof Barry Dwolatzky

 square_peg_in_round_hole

The story so far…. In a previous blog posting I outlined a strategy based on the “Franchisor/ Franchisee” model for setting up software development units capable of delivering extremely high quality software in a very predictable way. I made a commitment that over a 3 year period I would set up 40 such units, each employing 25 people. In this way we could create 1,000 new software development jobs. I will call these new software development units “High-Maturity Units” or “Hi-Mat Units”.

I ended with two questions: Where will all the skilled people come from to staff these units, and where will all the software projects come from to keep them busy?

Finding the skilled people

We have all heard about (and some of us have experienced) the “skills crisis” in the South African IT sector. Both large and small companies struggle to find suitably skilled and experienced people, and – when they do – find that they have to pay top salaries to attract and retain staff. At the same time we have the paradoxical situation of large numbers (hundreds of thousands) of unemployed graduates. Some of these graduates even have degrees in computer science, information systems and other IT-related disciplines. 

I believe that the root cause of this paradox is that we as South Africans have not been at all successful at matching people to jobs. There is frequently a mismatch between aptitude and interest on one hand and education and training on the other. We have the situation where a person chooses to study computer science (for example) when he or she is not well-suited to working in the IT sector. We also have people with a degree in (say) psychology who land up working in software development.

Part of the solution to the “skills crisis” is therefore aptitude testing and career counselling. In other word putting “round pegs in round holes”. In finding people to staff the “Hi-Mat Units” our focus will be on identifying people with the right aptitude and a high level of enthusiasm. While experience and formal qualifications are important, aptitude and ability will be the determining factors.

 Each “Hi-Mat Unit” will employ 25 people. A quarter of these (about 5 or 6) will be experienced in software development. The remainder will be recent graduates or unemployed graduates. After passing and aptitude test all recruits into the “Hi-Mat Unit” will be trained extensively. The focus of the training, which might require several months to complete, will be to teach the recruits to use the processes and tools specified in the “operations manual” for the Hi-Mat Unit. It’s like sending people employed to operate a McDonald’s franchise on intensive training before they are allowed to work in the store. Many of the successful Indian IT companies send new recruits to a training campus to learn how to work within the company’s environment. Intensive technical training will also be given to “Hi-Mat Unit” recruits.

Each “Hi-Mat Unit” will have a formal relationship with a local University and/or University of Technology. This will also assist in recruiting staff into the units.

Keeping the “Hi-Mat Units” busy

 Each “Hi-Mat Unit” should be capable of doing about R10 million worth of development work per year. Where will all of this work come from?

 In the first few years work will come from Government, NGO’s and parastatals. Some of the projects might have to be subsidised. Since the “Hi-Mat Units” will be unknown entities with no track-record, giving work to them may be seen to be relatively risky.  In time, however – on the assumption that the work done by the units will be of exceptionally high quality – they will win contracts to develop software on merit. They should also be well-placed to compete for work internationally.

 Next steps

 At this moment I have a proposal “in the pipeline” with Government to get seed-funding to set up the first 4 “Hi-Mat Units”.  These will be used to flesh-out the concept and as “proof-of-concept” pilots. Moving forward the “Hi-Mat Units” will be rolled out using profits and skilled people from each Unit to seed others.

If you have any questions or thoughts about this concept, please comment.

4 thoughts on “Creating a 1,000 jobs – round pegs in round holes

  1. Hi Prof

    I have been eagerly awaiting your latest post. The hypothesis of creating Hi-Mat Units in order to plug the gaps in the unemployment holes, using a tried and tested approach. i.e. the franchise model remains to be tested. Like any scientific hypothesis, it needs to be tested. I commend your vision and hope that you will be able to test your theory, and in a sense be able to create 1000 jobs.

    Good Luck with your endeavour

    Derek

  2. >> Each “Hi-Mat Unit” will have a formal relationship with a local University <> the work done by the units will be of exceptionally high quality <<

    I have already studied quite a number of book-chapters and research-papers about quality in software engineering, but yet I still do not know what "exceptionally high quality" really means and how it could or should be defined. But nevertheless I am very grateful that this quality-topic has actually been brought up, because this could possibly "re open" an interesting new discussion "thread" on this blog website – a discussion thread which is actually more related to software engineering as such and itself again (and not always only on economy-related issues such as job-creation, etc.)

    Kind regards and best wishes from Pretoria!

  3. SORRY, my previous comment was not completely transmitted to the website — maybe a temporary technical defect — Please read this one here, which seems to be complete:

    RE: Each “Hi-Mat Unit” will have a formal relationship with a local University

    The South African software industry is already sucking so rapidly so many young brains out of our universities, especially the computer science departments, that we have notable problems in retaining and recruiting the next generation of computer science and software engineering lecturers and professors. I can currently count the MSc-CS project students under my supervision with the fingers of one hand. If this trend (which has elsewhere been dubbed the “eating-your-seed-corns-problem”) continues, then South Africa’s lack-of-skills-problem will soon be even more severe than it is today. QUESTION: What will the “Hi-Mat-Units” offer to the universities IN RETURN for such a “formal relationship”? What can we gain, we who are sitting in those universities? Are all the industrialists “out there” aware of our actual academic situation in which 1 CS lecturer is confronted with 400, 500, sometimes even 600 CS first-year-students in the lecture hall? Thus, if it is not going to be a clear win-win-situation for both parties, then the universities will probably not be very interested in such a “formal relationship” with the “Hi-Mat” business. My SUGGESTION would be: that any successful “Hi-Mat-Unit” would sponsor the monthly salary (including social benefits, medical aid scheme, etc.) of one additional CS lecturer in the cooperating universities. That would -in my opinion- make an interesting and attractive win-win business model for an industrial-academic cooperation.

    RE: the work done by the units will be of exceptionally high quality

    I have already studied quite a number of book-chapters and research-papers about quality in software engineering, but yet I still do not know what “exceptionally high quality” really means and how it could or should be defined. But nevertheless I am very grateful that this quality-topic has actually been brought up, because this could possibly “re open” an interesting new discussion “thread” on this blog website – a discussion thread which is actually more related to software engineering as such and itself again (and not always only on economy-related issues such as job-creation, etc.)

    Kind regards and best wishes from Pretoria!

  4. Hi Barry

    This idea is superb. If you do get backing from the state, it would be wonderful, and I wish you the best of luck with it. Just make sure CT gets one too !

    The business model will change as it is rolled out, of course. Business models do that. But at least one of the units will turn out to be a exemplary leader, providing good ideas for the others.

    Keep us posted !

    Regards
    Charles

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