With 60 000 vacant IT posts, it is time to look at what business is doing wrong.
Recent media reports have mentioned that there is an estimated 60 000 vacant IT posts in South Africa that cannot be filled due to an acute skills shortage. Not only is this a threat to the ability of business to function effectively, but it also threatens the country's chance of meeting its economic growth targets.
While this number may fly in the face of the shocking statistics showing about a third of South Africans of working age are unemployed, it is symptomatic of the lack of specialised IT skills confronting industry in South Africa.
"We have many young people out there going to dubious IT academies to get a piece of paper of debatable value, but once they graduate their value to business is limited," says John Olsson, sales and marketing director of Ability Solutions. "IT companies today are not only on the lookout for good technical skills, we want a mixture of technical and business expertise."
Sadly, the number of people with these skills and the experience of operating in a business environment are few and there is great competition for them. This has led to the habit of head hunting.
"While some companies make the effort to take people on board and train them to the point where they have the proficiency to add value, many others are not prepared to make the required investment," adds Olsson. "They opt to head hunt people, throwing out unrealistic salary offers that are unsustainable."
From a business perspective, some may support head hunting as a way to quickly bring skills on board to meet project requirements. In reality, this practice discourages effective training and exacerbates the skills shortage.
Olsson says that training, retaining and upgrading skills in-house has become a critical component of running an IT business today. Realistically, companies in the 21st century have to create an environment people want to be in and match that with a fair wage.
"People need to understand that remaining with a company that supports them will expose them to technical and business experience that will stand them and their careers in good stead in the long term," explains Olsson. "A quick boost in salary may sound pleasant, but we need to understand that to try and justify paying top dollar, companies will try to extract every bit of value from their expensive human assets as they can.
"In these companies, training individuals and helping them gain experience that will boost their 'resale value' and provide psychological satisfaction does not feature in management thinking. This may not be a problem for young people just starting out in their career, but it will affect their long-term job prospects."
Solving the skills shortage is no easy task. Companies can import skills from India or waste money in head hunting endeavours as a short-term solution, or they can meet their skills requirements with training and mentoring, thereby playing a role in boosting the number of skills available in South Africa.