by Prof Barry Dwolatzky
The ICT “Skills Crisis” – and how to solve it – is an issue that has been my major preoccupation over the past decade (or more). I was therefore interested to read an article in ITWeb (19th April 2010 ) headed “Holes in ICT Skills Pipeline” , written by Leigh-Ann Francis. (http://www.itweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=32338:holes-in-sas-skills-pipeline&catid=262:training-and-e-learning ). She quotes Marius de Beer, a software coach and mentor at ScrumSense, who believes that the “ …. ICT profession has been incapable of accurately classifying the nature of the skills shortage and by extension the skills gap ..”. He says that, faced with a severe skills shortage, employers in the ICT sector have lowered their criteria, employing under-qualified staff with the intention of providing future training and skills development. “Unfortunately, the follow-up training and skills development is seldom implemented. The net effect is an overall reduction in skill level and by extension, quality,” he says.
While there are several valuable skills development initiatives in place, de Beer believes that many ICT employers have not heard of these. “Additionally, most of these initiatives (struggle) since they all compete for the same funding” he says. He believes that while companies complain about the skills crisis they fail to actively support educational programs.
While I certainly agree with some of the points raised in the article I believe that it paints far too gloomy a picture. Rather than focusing on the problems – as this article does – would it not be better to highlight some of the solutions? Marius de Beer mentions worthwhile initiatives – lets hear more about these from ITWeb!
Leigh-Ann Francis’s article highlights some of the issues I’ve been tackling, with some success, over the past decade. Some of these solutions are being piloted by the organisation I run – the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University.
- Understanding the skills shortage: I agree with Marius de Beer that there is a crucial need to quantify the skills situation in the South African ICT sector. To this end the JCSE has been partnering ITWeb since 2008 in carrying out an annual Skills Survey. The 2010 survey is about to be launched with support from ISETT SETA and the Meraka e-Skills Institute. The quality of the data collected will depend on how many individuals and companies complete the survey.
- Dealing with the skills pipeline: I believe that the formal tertiary education sector (Universities and Universities of Technology) provides excellent education to ICT professionals. South African ICT graduates are world-class. The problem we face is that we are not producing these graduates in sufficient numbers. We therefore need to find ways to raise the level of skills of those people already working in the ICT sector – many of whom are not ICT graduates. The JCSE and Wits University have pioneered a number of really exciting programs to do this (visit www.jcse.org.za for more details):
- CPD Programme: this allows people with 5 years or more of relevant experience in the ICT industry to be “bridged” into a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree program in Software Engineering. We currently have about 60 people in this programme
- Student interns: aims to give professional software development experience to undergraduate students who are on a “light” academic load. These are students who may have failed one or two subjects in a computer science or engineering programme.
- Master Classes, Evening Classes and Forums: aimed at keeping working professionals up-to-date with new ICT developments.
- Attracting school children into the ICT sector: In the latter half of 2010 we will be launching a programme aimed at providing grade 10 learners with an opportunity to spend some of their school holidays working on software projects at the JCSE and some of our partner companies.
We have also partnered with the Innovation Hub in Pretoria in setting up a “CoachLab” in Johannesburg. The CoachLab concept has run successfully at the Innovation Hub over the last 10 years. It is a leadership development programme for post-graduate ICT students. CoachLab@JCSE, launched in 2009, draws students from both Wits and University of Johannesburg (UJ) and has support from Microsoft, BB&D, Vodacom and Standard Bank.
While I agree with some of the issues raised in the ITWeb article, I have a much more optimistic view of the ICT skills situation. I believe that there are companies that are dealing with ICT skills in a creative and constructive way. I also believe that organisations like the JCSE, the Innovation Hub, and others, are demonstrating innovative solutions. It is essential, however, to share information about these solutions and find ways to scale them up.
If you feel inspired to respond to this post – how about sharing some of the positive things you know about that are solving the ICT skills crisis?