Certain issues have dogged the local ICT training sector for years. Too few South Africans with the ICT skills needed to do the job, the poor quality of education, and lack of infrastructure plague business and training providers alike.
At the same time, we see trends such as bring-your-own-device (BYOD), cloud and digitisation changing the face of training and how it is delivered. Training Guide talks to four of the top players in the training space to fi nd out what their issues and challenges are, as well as the trends they see driving ICT training in SA.
Loraine Vorster, VP business development Africa, Australia and New Zealand at CompTIA, says: “Last year saw some of our training partners experiencing a growth explosion and others closing their doors. In my opinion, those that grow are more proactive, always creative in their offerings and, most importantly, they constantly listen to their customers’ needs to ensure they meet them. On the plus side, CompTIA has seen fewer complaints about fl y-by-night providers, which I hope means there are either fewer of them or consumers are becoming more savvy in selecting a training provider.”
ANTON VAN ROOYEN, CTU
She says there are a few very large ICT training providers that dominate the market today. These providers are well-established and have a proven track record in the industry. This makes it very diffi cult for other providers to grow and grab some of the market share, she adds.
“We see a growing number of ICT employers open up commercial training divisions, or simply keeping their training and certifi cation in-house. Employers normally do this to save costs or drive new revenue for themselves, but this obviously takes revenue away from the training providers. Training providers can still be involved in this process and get revenue if they are creative in their offerings, such as providing a trainer at a lower cost, offering short workshops or exam prep sessions, to name a few.”
Improving basic and advanced education to address the skills shortage and fi ght unemployment should be a priority for government and businesses alike. However, there is a clear lack of understanding and strategy from the department of education with regard to the decision to only support and make funding available to public FETs (Further Education and Training Colleges), says Carl Raath, technical director at Torque IT.
“It’s no secret that public FETs have not exactly achieved exemplary results and it is absurd that anyone who is serious about developing meaningful, tangible and relevant skills and certifi cation in our country would exclude the more effective private FETs from receiving funding.“
All employers with an annual payroll of R500 000 or more are required by the Skills Development Act to pay a skills levy equal to 1% of their annual payroll. On the corporate training side, Raath says recent changes to Act, include the cutback in the Mandatory Grant from 50% of the skills level paid, to only 20% as of April 2013. “The result is that companies have simply reduced their training spend, which ultimately reduces the investment in skills in a country where we desperately need to invest heavily in ICT skills.”
Raath says government IT procurement is channelled through SITA, and, it is common knowledge that red tape ineffi ciency has negatively impacted on the execution of major procurement, the absence of which negatively impacts the major vendors in South Africa as well as their channel partners who sell, implement and manage technology solutions.
“This is a vicious circle as a reduced spend also means less funding and less training required which, in turn, reduces the investment in skills development.”
Dr Madelise Grobler, MD of Bytes People Solutions, says the skills gap is still not narrowing. “There is a greater demand for tech skills, but it’s diffi cult to fi ll the vacancies as it is hard to fi nd qualifi ed candidates. Although South African organisations are investing, and trying to bridge the gap between what the industry needs and the skills that are available, this gap remains wide.
“The ongoing digital divide and poor quality of education in SA remain a challenge. Everyone wants to tackle the skills gap, but the quality of skills is poor, particularly in ICT,” she says.
HR has been focused on acquiring, hiring and retaining talented employees, adds Grobler, but the key to success is to align the talent-management strategy with the business strategy. “Businesses are still not working with HR. They need to have a talent-management strategy in place – it is all about people development. Start with the business strategy and develop the people strategy from that, to determine the way forward. It is important to have a plan to address the skills defi cit and follow that plan through.”
Grobler believes that companies that implement the best talent-management processes are in a better position to compete successfully and make the most of new trends and opportunities.
Cloud computing, mobility and security are at the top of every CIO’s agenda, and SA is no different. However, it is also apparent that many tech executives are not comfortable managing the new IT environment, and want more training on the relevant topics.
Vorster says CompTIA recently unveiled Cloud+ and Mobility+ certifi cations as those are the areas the company sees the most interest in from employers and IT professionals. “The biggest new IT buzzword this last year was ‘cloud’. There is certainly a lot of hype and interest, but as always, South Africa takes a while to really adopt new technology despite early offerings from many local companies.”
Companies have embraced the BYOD model, adds senior facilitator at CTU Training, Anton van Rooyen. “We have seen that corporate training has shifted to private-cloud training with emphasis on rights management. Companies must ensure their company data is safe and users operate in accordance to company compliance. This, coupled with the ability to do business from anywhere, is seeing companies host more corporate data and line of business (LOB) apps in their on-premise datacentres and augment that solution to the cloud-based hosting. This has sparked a big interest in SharePoint administration and development training, as companies have used these collaborative technologies to manage not only the fl ow of data, but also to side-load LOB apps to the BYOD devices.”
LORAINE VORSTER, COMPTIA
However, he says, bandwidth always remains a big challenge. “Training resources are increasing almost as steadily as Moore’s law, with content available in a variety of mediums. Training has now become almost totally dependent on reliable and fast Internet connectivity. Software as a service (SaaS) and the subscription-based models have given the end user an always up-to-date version of his/her software and applications. Staying ahead of the latest product developments and the subsequent learning material will really become a major challenge in delivering highquality training.”
Another area that remains in focus but is still not taken seriously enough, adds Vorster, is security. “CompTIA’s Security+ remains our fastest growing certifi cation for the last three years, and we recently added a highlevel security credential, CompTIA Advanced Security Professional, CASP. With the US Military being our biggest customer for our security certifi cations and being involved in the development, the IT Industry is assured of a vendor-neutral credential with a lot of credibility.”
Torque IT’s Raath says one area that has seen signifi cant evolution in the ICT training sector pertains to the vendor-authorised course material used. “This course material sits at the core of every course delivery and is developed and continually updated by the vendor in question.
“Course material has traditionally been provided to our clients in printed form, which has always come with several challenges, including the delay while it is ordered and shipped from the EU or the US, its growing quickly out of date; increased costs, and its environmental unfriendliness. “Moreover, clients are unable to conveniently keep their course materials close at hand when they are back at the offi ce, travelling or at their client’s site.”
In the past year, most of Torque’s vendors have developed and made their vendor-authorised training curriculum available in digital form. “Torque IT has invested over R1 500 000 in the infrastructure and technology necessary to provide our clients with digital courseware, using Torque IT-issued tablets in the classroom. Clients are able to read and make notes just as they were able to do using printed course material.”
Torque IT has noted a signifi cant increase in the demand for customised training solutions, where clients are focused on only attending training for systems and technology that is relevant and pertinent in their specifi c environment rather than the more comprehensive off-the-shelf training that covers a broader range of technology solutions.
In the school leaver market, Torque IT has noted a greater demand for its training solutions, over traditional academic ICT training, as school leavers and their parents embrace the vendor- authorised training and international certifi cation.
“There is a realisation that training needs to result in enablement, skills and certifi cations that empower graduates to implement, manage and troubleshoot technology solutions that are relevant today,” says Carl Raath, technical director at Torque IT.
He has also seen a return to instructor-led training as the preferred training and enablement method. “Many of our clients have tried various e-learning, internal training and self-study mechanisms and have consistently been unable to produce the real skills and understanding of technology that are required in order to compete and deliver with regard to today’s complex technology solutions.”
He adds that more clients are interested in attending live instructor-led training from the location of their choosing, meaning that they attend a live class from their home or offi ce. “This allows delegates to participate in presentations, ask and answer questions, and do all of the lab exercises as if she, or he, was in the class itself.”
He says, however, that Torque IT offers virtual but live instructor-led training, but limits the total number of attendees to the same physical limit for each class as if all attendees are attending physically. This guarantees that clients receive personal attention.
Raath cites several advantages. “Clients can install the digital course material on several of their own personal devices. The notes that they made in their material in class are saved to the cloud and therefore appear in all copies. In addition, they can keep their course material with them as they work or travel and can conveniently make use of this material, for reference purposes, anywhere, at any time. Visually-impaired clients are now able to activate the read function in the course material, where the device will read the manual back to them so that they are able to study material that was previously not available to them. Finally, the course curriculum is continually updated, ensuring clients have the latest content available.”
He adds that a client’s course material can be downloaded and activated in minutes, eliminating delays and costs associated with traditional shipping methods. “Digital courseware eliminates the use of an average of six million pages of paper that we traditionally issued to our clients on an annual basis. The carbon footprint associated with printing, shipping and delivering these pages worth of printed courseware has now been completely eliminated and our training solutions are therefore more environmentally friendly.”
CARL RAATH, TORQUE IT
CTU’s Van Rooyen agrees. “This past year, there have been some exciting developments around the delivery of training. Training material has become digital, and gone are the days of lumping around those cumbersome PC books. Users can now create a profile,enter their purchased access code and have all their books stored in a centralised library, for instant access. Hands-on labs (a canned version of the technology) have also started to move to the cloud. Datacentres now provision lab sessions according to the class size and have 24-hour hotline support for those little IT niggles, provisioning more on-demand resources. This has aided the instructor immensely when preparing for the setup of the class. In addition to this, customers still require quality training but in a shorter span of time.”
Furthermore, companies are trying to stay ahead of the market, and are increasingly implementing analytical tools to mine historical data to identify trends and act on them, says van Rooyen. “So, SQL business intelligence (BI) and recently Power BI through Excel have become high demand. To add to this list of new technology implementations, many companies are implementing the new Microsoft Offi ce 365 (server and client tools online, with real-time update). These results can be confi rmed by the almost 300% increase of Offi ce 365 sales in the MEA region.”