In the new 'Internet of everything' era, over 50 billion connections will soon link every person, every device, and possibly every thing, to the Internet, said Cisco senior VP Howard Charney.
What does a shared global skills pool mean for local enterprises?
Speaking at the recent Cisco Expo 2013, Charney painted a picture of a world where practically everything is connected to a global infrastructure and all data is collated, shared and mined. This future opens the door to revolutionary change, he noted. Not just that – it changes the way companies operate and the way people live and work.
In this hyper-connected society, enterprises can now source the best skills from around the world, while skilled workers can offer their services to employers around the world. The question is, will this signifi cantly change staffi ng and skills management in local enterprises? Yes and no, say key players.
Haros Lala, VP & Regional business head for Africa at International IT Outsourcing Firm Zensar
Outsourcing to skilled professionals is booming, with much of this happening online. Thanks to the Internet, project collaboration can take place and knowledge-based projects can be outsourced across the world, delivering results as effectively as if the participants were all in the same offi ce, which has resulted in thriving business for services such as oDesk and Freelancer.com.
Freelancer.com, describing itself as the world's largest outsourcing and crowdsourcing marketplace, has around 7 million members in 234 countries and regions. It reported during its last quarter last year that over 260 000 jobs had been completed during the quarter, with massive increases in the number of Web hosting (3 300%), software and Web site testing (2 000%) and Windows Desktop app (305%) jobs.
oDesk, calling itself the 'world's largest and fastest-growing online workplace, ranked number one by annual contractor earnings', reports that over 350 000 businesses and over 2.5 million contractors use the service. According to oDesk data, contractors on average increase their hourly wage almost 60% in the fi rst year of working on oDesk, and close to 190% over three years, while 90% of those hiring on oDesk say online work makes their business "more competitive".
"The future of work is fl exible," said oDesk CEO Gary Swart. He says fl exible work is a win-win for companies and workers, and increasingly important in keeping businesses competitive. While contracting services online may be a fastgrowing industry, the reality is that freelance work does not necessarily generate a regular income and contractors are competing against the world's professionals for work. For employers, there are cost savings and other benefi ts in outsourcing some tasks to contractors online, but day-to-day operations are usually best managed by full-time staff who understand the company culture.
Employees – particularly millennials – are increasingly looking to grow their knowledge through transfers within multinationals or through permanent or semi-permanent international job postings, with the Internet making sourcing work abroad somewhat easier. But this is not necessarily a negative thing, said Dr Madelise
Grobler, MD of Bytes People Solutions. Grobler pointed out that the environment has changed, and people in certain sectors – including IT – are keen to gain work experience in other countries. "But there appears to be a balance – likely as many foreign professionals want to work in South Africa as South Africans want to work abroad," she said. She feels the enhanced skills and international exposure they gain benefi ts enterprises.
Grobler said Bytes People Solutions has observed a change in professionals' attitude to learning interactions online, though – a factor she feels may also impact on the way people are prepared to work from day to day. "We see now that professionals are far more receptive to real-time streamed training than they were just a few years ago," she said. This may be indicative of new levels of maturity in South Africans' approach to virtual communications, which may also lead to new models and approaches to working.
Brian Gubbins, EOH Group Business Development Director
In many cases, local enterprises may turn to outsource agreements with overseas professionals because of a lack of skills available locally.
But Harish Lala, VP & Regional Business head for Africa at international IT outsourcing fi rm Zensar, noted that not all outsourcing models are equal. And not all of them are a good idea. Lala said Zensar's model of 'optishoring', whereby the best of global expertise and the cost-saving benefi ts of offshoring are combined with the security and control of managing some IT inhouse, as well as upskilling local employees, is the solution.
"If you have 1 000 graduates a year, and a need for 15 000, business cannot stand still and wait for the skills situation to improve. To remain competitive, they must source the skills they need." But Zensar is aware that high-end international skills come at a price. The company has developed a model whereby graduates are recruited locally and are trained and work together with international experts, as a sustainable way to bring skills to the market and deliver effi cient outsource services.
Meeting skills shortfalls can be as simple as growing your own skills.
Dr Harold Wesso, director general of the E-Skills Institute at the Ministry of Communications, said a new approach to training is the answer. "We know there are ICT professionals who can't fi nd jobs, and we know there is a skills defi cit where companies feel people are not appropriately qualifi ed. This points to a skills mismatch – between what universities and institutions are delivering and enterprises need. This has been a global problem for years.
"We need to popularise this new environment where we can skill people appropriately in a fast and agile way," he said.
Several enterprises have already adopted upskilling programmes aimed at equipping a new generation of ICT professionals with the full range of skills they need – technical, business and 'soft' skills, as well as helping them to secure employment to grow their experience. Zensar's skills development programme is one such example, where graduates receive training and work experience through Zensar and its partners. Cisco's Global Talent Acceleration Programme (GTAP) is another initiative aimed at growing ICT skills through training, mentorship and job placement within the Cisco partner ecosystem. Edrei Schoeman, Offset & Countertrade manager at Cisco SA, said the programme includes soft skills training and job placement – a critical element in ensuring the next-generation workforce is fully equipped to meet business needs.
EOH also takes the ICT skills shortfall seriously, and is making an effort to close the gap, absorbing hundreds of school-leavers and graduates into skills development programmes within its workforce. EOH Group Business Development director Brian Gubbins warned that SA will see serious social issues in future if urgent steps aren't taken to create job opportunities for SA's youth.
"Our view is if we don't do something about job creation as business, we are going to be in big trouble," he said. "It's not the government's business to create jobs. It's up to the private sector. One thing companies can do to stimulate job creation is to stop offshoring and employ local skills."