The demand for skilled tech professionals remains at odds with availability in South Africa.
The fifth annual ICT Skills Survey, carried out by the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) in conjunction with the MICT SETA, reports a decreased level of activity in the local ICT sector. The report attributes this to the stagnant economy and resultant lowered budgets for hiring, as well as the lack of availability of suitable candidates.
While the skills shortage has a major stranglehold on businesses, its effects seem to be reducing from year to year. In 2009, 75% of businesses reported that the skills shortage posed a major business threat. This reduced to 66% in 2011, and to 60% in 2012.
The effect of the poor economy is also weakening. While 34% of respondents in 2011 indicated that the recession has made recruitment harder or increased their number of vacancies, only 21% reported this effect in 2012.
ADRIAN SCHOFIELD, JCSE
Despite these improvements, the demand for skills remains at odds with the reality of skills availability. SA's ICT sector has grown at double the rate of the GDP to $12.7 billion, according to the report, fuelled by the pressure for greater productivity in conjunction with the remarkable growth in the development of apps and gaming software. Indications are that this growth, and concomitant demand for skills, will result in an approximate 10% to 15% increase in ICT employees (20 000 to 30 000 job opportunities) in the next year, with no significant planned staff reductions – yet the MICT Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) Skills Sector Plan (SSP) reports an actual hiring increase of only 6% in 2012, highlighting the gap between the desired increase and the reality.
The report notes that, globally, there is strong demand for skills to implement new technologies, but that SA is struggling to produce the necessary number of entrylevel candidates with an appropriate range of skills. With SA's science and maths education being ranked 62nd out of 62 countries by the World Economic Forum, and 133rd out of 142 countries on the likelihood that the education system will be able to fulfil the needs of the economy, this comes as no surprise.
This is a problem of huge importance, according to the report: "If we are to 'red flag' one area, it is the failure of the education system to generate young people who are familiar with technology and its application in daily life, who are interested in developing and implementing ICTs and who are work-ready when they exit from the system. SA cannot afford this failure."
In 2011, the highest priority for businesses was software as a service/cloud, by a long margin. In 2012, this remained the highest priority, but was much more closely followed by network infrastructure and information security than in previous years.
JCSE 2012 ICT SKILLS SURVEY
The second and third priorities of application development and business intelligence/knowledge management in 2011 have dropped to fourth and fifth place in 2012, but are still ranked highly. Mobile computing, a high priority in 2011, has dropped in the ranks slightly.
The skills in highest demand in a year will be programming, business intelligence/knowledge management, business analysis, systems analysis, and information security. Business intelligence/knowledge management and systems analysis are currently in short supply.
Project management is identified by respondents as being the skill in readiest supply, being rated most highly as the skill that has sufficient capacity now and least demand in a year's time. Implementation and support, as well as configuration/change management are also reported to be in sufficient supply at the moment, with implementation and support expected to be in low demand in a year's time.
As in 2011, the preferred qualification in 2012 was a degree, followed closely by a diploma, with certifications lagging behind. Postgraduate degrees were ranked lower in importance than undergraduate degrees, indicating that the first degree is considered the most vital for a candidate to be properly qualified. The programming languages in highest demand are Java and C#, followed closely by .NET, C++ and VB.
In 2011, 18% of employers reported recruiting overseas, a practice which reduced noticeably in 2012, with only 12% of employers recruiting foreign nationals, mostly from India and Eastern Europe. Until 2011, online recruitment was the most popular method of filling vacancies, but for the past two years, employment agencies have been the route of choice. The report suggests that the cost of agencies is offset by "the value they add by pre-selecting and verifying candidates".
With skills in short supply, staff retention policies are vital. The survey showed that professional development programmes are the most popular preference for staff retention, followed by performance bonuses, flexible schedules, and increased pay.
Responsibility for training was, contrary to recommendations in previous JCSE reports, reported to be increasingly the responsibility of line managers rather than HR. Mentorship remains the most popular method used to develop management capability and capacity, and formal management courses have risen through the ranks from fourth to second place. This is encouraging, the report notes: "There is no doubt that investment in current and future managers is a key ingredient for the sustainability and growth of any enterprise."
In line with mentorship, informal "knowledge sharing with peers" is marked as the most popular training method, ahead of self-study methods such as discs/videos/books and e-learning/podcasts. On-site training is still preferred to off-site, but off-site training sources such as academic institutions and commercial training companies rank highly. Respondents report that "on the job experience or mentoring" played a significant role in the acquisition of their current skills, as well as being the method most practitioners anticipate using to gain skills in the next year. Certificated and vendor-specific short courses are also high in popularity. These results are not significantly different from previous years. Degrees and diplomas are low in the list of preferences, presumably due to time pressures and expense.
A strong focus on training, both as professional development and in order to produce suitable entry-level candidates, is identified by the report as being essential in reducing the skills crisis in the ICT sector. Adrian Schofield, manager of the Applied Research Unit at the JCSE, notes: "With SA's ICT sector growing at twice the rate of our GDP, we have to step up our investment in these scarce and critical skills."
Only a few practitioners reported that their roles are "specialist", while most perform multiple tasks: for technical practitioners, an average of five tasks per person, and almost four for those with a business focus. The report flags this as an area of concern: "It is unlikely that [practitioners] have the required strengths in all these activities or the time available to carry them all out, which would lead to a degree of underperformance in some areas. It also leads to an over-dependence on the individual concerned, who becomes irreplaceable."