We asked training and certification specialists to assess the health of the local ICT training sector. They find it's alive and well, but needs to continually reinvent itself and its offerings to meet demand.
The ICT skills defi cit has long been a problem, and not just in South Africa. The only way to address this shortage is to constantly and relentlessly develop skills, from the ground up. This requires businesses, vendors, government, educators and training providers to work together.
In South Africa we have two challenges, says Ronald Meeske, CEO of CTU Training Solutions. "The fi rst lies in developing foundational skills across the industry, targeting computer literacy in schools, communities, the employed and unemployed. We need every South African to be computer literate."
RONALD MEESKE,CEO OF CTU TRAINING SOLUTIONS
The second challenge is a high-level skills shortage, he adds. "The deployment of new technology is dependent on higher level skills sets. Companies are holding back on deployment of new technology not only based on limited and expensive bandwidth, but on the lack of high-end skills. Even though universities, colleges and other educational providers are pushing suffi cient numbers of trained individuals, they're not upskilled to fi ll the gap in the market."
Carl Raath, technical director of Torque IT, believes the skills shortage is felt particularly at the top end of the skills pyramid. "Our market is lacking experienced specialists who have a solid understanding of the technology in question, along with the ability to design, implement, confi gure, administer and effectively troubleshoot complex solutions."
According to Raath, this is where adequate training comes in. "The only repeatable approach to developing these skills involves constant quality, authorised, theoretical and hands-on training, combined with workplace experience. Developing expert skills requires time, and it's therefore prudent to constantly and relentlessly develop skills from the bottom and across the organisation. If organisations would take responsibility for the development of their required talent through partnerships with specialised, authorised training centres, our country's skills supply will easily meet demand and this will benefi t all parties concerned."
Strangely enough, it's common for organisations to fail to realise the productivity gains that result from a tiny investment in instructor-led, end-user training for their entire staff compliment, Raath remarked. Word processor, spreadsheet and e-mail training is readily available and inexpensive, and organisations enjoy the resultant productivity gains into perpetuity.
CTU's Meeske says the local ICT training sector is in a mature state, with a number of strong players. "However, the 'traditional market' is under pressure and it's crucial the industry reinvents itself in line with technology trends worldwide."
He says the way people learn is changing rapidly in a digital world, with millennials entering the market. "We predict content will become free and available on all platforms: mobile devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Blended learning solutions will need to be developed to fulfi l the needs of both individuals and companies."
Regional director of ComTIA, Loraine Vorster, says the training sector is currently booming. "If you look at our training partners, all of them seem to be growing. As an international organisation, we deal with training partners and corporates and similar types of organisations across the world. Typically, what we see in Europe, the US and Canada is that the recession has hit the industry hard, but we don't see that here."
Technology is at the cornerstone of every business today, adds Raath. "It's no longer the case that technology is only core to technology companies. Business is increasingly dependent on information systems in order to operate, never mind remain competitive."
Raath says the major vendors and organisations in our market realise the value that locally available authorised training and certifi cation has on technology adoption decisions, brand loyalty, productivity, effi ciency, differentiation, skills retention and the sustainability of business. Today, the availability of existing and future skills, through training, is a major factor when making technology adoption decisions.
LORAINE VORSTER, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, COMPTIA
However, he says, although vendor authorised training is readily available, the market does not adequately capitalise on the opportunity it has to develop the people of our country, and in doing so, improve productivity, effi ciency and the sustainability in business.
While all agree the ICT training sector in SA is booming, it is not without its challenges.
Meeske says SA needs to enter a new age of learning – learner-centric learning. "This means combining the industry's technological skill requirements with the individual's learning identity, and developing training interventions that will satisfy the needs of both. The key for us lies not in theoretical training interventions, but dynamic lab interventions combined with the individual's digital learning identity.
He says in order for training companies to remain relevant, they need to create dynamic skills experiences for ICT professionals that are validated through international certifi cation and hands-on labs.
"Technology is moving at an exhilarating pace, and the only training and certifi cations that are constantly evolving fast enough to remain relevant to the marketplace are the corporate professional vendor authorised training, enablement and certifi cation solutions," notes Raath.
Both corporate, and individual buying of training solutions has become a lot more informed than it was a couple of years ago, according to Vorster. "There's a lot more pressure on a training partner or training organisation to provide skills that the individual can use in a working environment."
She says the individuals that are coming out of school are looking for skills they can use to fi nd a job. "We see a lot more training partners taking on certifi cation, making certifi cation part of the programme, which is fantastic. They're not only confi dent in the quality of their training, but they have realised that certifi cation is key to fi nding employment and moving up within an organisation."
According to Meeske, a signifi cant contribution to the ICT training sector can only be made through developing solutions that address the practical skills requirements in the market, and not theoretical academic knowledge. "We have to be the choice provider of expert skills experiences to stay relevant in a dynamic, developing environment. Blended training and skills-based development interventions will determine the technology growth in ICT."
Raath agrees. "Due to a lack of understanding, many young people are studying through traditional academic institutions and then graduating without any material prospects. Generating awareness around professional corporate style training that is hands-on, relevant, and that culminates in skills and certifi cations that are in demand, is an ongoing challenge."
CARL RAATH, TECHNICAL DIRECTOR, TORQUE IT
Another challenge, says Raath, is that in tough economic times, organisations are often tempted to make the fateful error of reducing or even eliminating quality training, enablement and certifi cation of their teams. He says they should be doing the opposite: "This is rather the time to invest in improving skills, effi ciency and productivity. Through this investment, they may differentiate themselves from the competition."
Raath says businesses are skimping on skills development, enablement and training, opting rather to "poach" existing skills. "This short-term vision addresses the symptom of not having a specifi c skills set available, but does nothing to address the root cause. This has resulted in a consolidation in the corporate professional ICT training sector, the result of which is fewer established authorised training providers which are offering true value through relevant solutions, often in their specifi c niche."
Low-quality, non-vendor authorised 'grey training' remains a problem in the form of fl yby- night companies that market training to the public, adds Raath. "This same phenomenon also frequently occurs within organisations that have chosen to host their own internal skills development programmes. These are usually of a far lower quality than those offered by organisations that are authorised to provide vendor-specifi c training, dedicated to offering specialised training, enablement and certifi cation solutions."
Vorster believes many challenges can be solved by all the different sectors working together. "I've seen huge improvements in the ICT SETA, a real willingness to work with the industry. On the corporate and training provider's side, there's a lot more collaboration than we had seen before, which is key. The different sectors – the customers, the providers, government, the MICT SETA – everyone has to work together to make this industry. Our main aim is to train and certify people, give them skills and help them to fi nd employment and then help build a career for that individual. That's really the strength of our industry, the individuals who work for us."
Raath emphasises it is also key that the youth are made aware of the opportunities available in the sector, and begin their skills development journey at the correct institutions, with relevant skills and abilities as the result.
"We need to take the same approach when it comes to our businesses. The constant development of the skills and abilities of our people are a common mission-critical area across most businesses that cannot be skimped on." There are also broader trends that affect the ICT training sector.
Says Meeske: "Our key restraint to changing the learning experience has been the restrictive infl uence of limited bandwidth to create the optimised skills development experience. "With the rapid deployment of fi bre in South Africa, we believe proper blended learning solutions can be developed in the new digital age, where ICT training can play a pivotal role in the development of ICT skills."
Raath agrees with this assessment. "With the reduced cost and increased availability of bandwidth in SA, we are able to provide blended training solutions. Vendor-authorised, instructorled training provided remotely allows clients to attend training at a location of their choosing, without compromising their theoretical and practical experience. This approach also reduces travel time and costs."