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

By Prof Barry Dwolatzky


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.