Mobility and broader approach will help Africa address tech skills crisis
Africa’s technology skills shortage is down to a clear supply demand issue, with businesses continually trying to source human capital to meet productivity requirements and being frustrated in the process. That is certainly the case in South Africa, according to Nyari Samushonga, CEO of South African software training academy WeThinkCode.
She says only 37% of people who enter South Africa’s education system actually end up with Matric certification, just 6% of South African adults have a university degree and according to Stats SA, the official unemployment figure was pegged at 34,9% in Q3 2021.
“It’s a minefield to traverse. Statistics SA’s unemployment figures have made it abundantly clear that youth unemployment levels are inversely proportional to the level of education. Graduates are the least unemployed, followed by those with some post-matric qualification and then those that just have a matric. Youth who don’t have a matric have statistical odds weighted strongly against them. It is to this woeful backdrop that we have, possibly unselfconsciously, developed an obsession with education milestones - as if they alone will solve our unsustainable and world-topping unemployment rate.”
“This could not be further from reality.”
Samushonga said that while the statistics offer context to the Southern African country’s acute skills pipeline struggle in terms of technology, it must be remembered that this shortage is being felt in Africa and abroad.
It is one of the reasons why WeThinkCode remains focused on supplying software developers to the job market - and trying to meet a growing need as industries across Africa continue to digitally transform.
“The world of technology today is under-resourced globally … That’s where we find ourselves, in a world where tech is advancing and with each new great wave of solutions …(there) is a need for armies of people that are equipped to solve those problems.”
Samushonga said there is a need for experts in cybersecurity and cloud services, but the job market – while it leverages tech innovation - cannot keep up with the demand for skills fuelled by the innovation.
“So we are seeing huge opportunity with technology’s rapid advancement, but we are not seeing a similar inflection in the pipeline of people into productive places generally and specifically not in something that is changing as fast as technology.”
But while this irony explains why the pressure is mounting on business leaders and the economy, there is also an opportunity for proactive solution developers and service providers. An example is software platform development and the opportunity to roll out solutions that make it easier for users to generate their own infrastructure to enhance operations.
This is what global tech firm Zoho Corporation is doing.
The company announced the latest version of its low-code offering, Zoho Creator, which it says addresses the need for an easy-to-use platform that enables business users (or citizen developers) to “create complex and powerful business applications, while empowering the IT teams to place sufficient guardrails and govern usage, ensuring security and compliance.”
"The bulk of low-code application development, from customisation to automation, can be handled today by users with moderate technical knowledge. Where we see a gap, especially for the mid-market and enterprise, is between building and deployment," said Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Africa, Zoho Corp. "Currently there isn’t a low-code solution on the market that allows both business users and IT to truly build end to end business solutions.”
Despite increasing concern, there is some positive development.
Samushonga said East and West Africa (specifically Kenya and Nigeria) as well as countries like Rwanda continue to invest in capacity building and tech hubs to support skills development and innovation.
“(But) they are also building up hubs offshoring work and servicing international clients. There is an appetite for that offshore because of the cost benefits that would accrue to international organisations.”
While there is interest from abroad in Africa’s technical skills and equal interest from consulting organisations in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria to entice foreign markets with benefits like lower cost of living, better recruitment rates and reduced time and language barriers, skills pipelines simply do not have the capacity to match interest.
“… pipelines are just not pushing out the quality of skills and at the rate (the capacity) is needed… we need a dramatic shift to actually start to meet that level of need,” Samushonga added.
She is adamant that relying on traditional routes through the education system to possibly enter the tech sector and remain focused on one or two areas, will simply not cut it.
The market and economy demands that businesses drive mobility, take advantage of resources to empower their people to broaden their skills base, include technology and help address the skills dilemma.