To address the growing skills gap, upskilling and training needs strategy, not a tick box approach
There is a serious skills gap in South Africa regarding IT talent, which is only growing as technology evolves. A lack of skilled resources can be a significant obstacle in achieving organisational objectives, and without sufficient IT skills, South Africa will fall behind on a global stage. While there are multiple programmes out there aimed at skills development, especially for the youth, the reality is that for many businesses these have become about ticking a box to ensure they meet the requirements of a Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecard, and not actually about plugging the talent gap. To address the skills gap, both upskilling and training need a strategic approach to develop skills that will be useful in helping a business grow.
Speaking the same language
The industry is facing a dichotomy – when it comes to hiring, businesses want to be able to simply ‘plug and play’ their employees, slotting them seamlessly into their roles. On the flip side, the experienced resources to be able to do that are scarce, so businesses are finding that they simply cannot access the skills they need. This is precisely where skills development and training should be coming in to fill this gap. Instead of pushing as many people as possible through a learnership, organisations should focus on strategically developing and providing the experience for the skills they need to thrive.
The challenge here is that it requires the entire organisation to work together, and everyone from the CIO and the CEO to the HR team needs to speak the same language about finding the right fit for the business. It also means that skills need to be developed in line with business strategy, from entry-level right through to mid and higher levels. Upskilling from within is often a more rewarding process than the endless struggle to hire the right talent, but it requires an approach of mentorship, coaching and partnership with the right training provider. It also requires a shift from the mindset of quantity versus quality – it is better to train fewer people but train them well so that they will be able to add value – and away from the belief that as soon as people have skills, they will take those skills elsewhere. If every organisation had the same strategic approach, the pool of talent available to draw from would be far wider, and this challenge would not be such a barrier.
Growing the next generation of IT leaders
Having a strategy and a clear direction and focusing skills development on this in line with an organisation’s vision and mission, is a crucial step in building the deep pools of talent South Africa will require to compete as the fourth industrial revolution continues apace. As an example, In2IT, as a services and infrastructure business, needs people with the requisite knowledge and skills and relevant certifications in equipment and software. The skills development approach we follow is therefore not to train for the sake of training, but to train people for employment – even if that employment ends up being at another organisation, because this is the only way to build talent in the country.
Taking this a step further, skills development initiatives should be about building career paths, not just about pushing numbers through a broken system, which in turn requires commitment from all parties involved and alignment on vision and mission. It also requires C-level executives to foster a culture of skills development and continuous learning and improvement. However, if we are to truly address South Africa’s skills gap, we need a more holistic approach.
It has become essential to take programmes from the ground up, developing youth from school age so that they have skills and experience, job readiness, personal motivation and the many soft skills needed to succeed in today’s world. For example, the Boys2Men initiative mentors and develops fatherless boys from disadvantaged communities with an aptitude for technology from grades 9 and 10 and provides them with avenues to further their skills and studies to develop a career in the digital space.
It's not a numbers game
The reality is that for the skills gap to be addressed, we need a different approach to pushing vast numbers of youth through programmes that lead them nowhere – this leads to endless cycles of stipends and short-term learnerships that do not develop careers or employability. Skills development and training need to be strategic; they need to address actual gaps in the market, and they need to groom youth from school age in career paths that will provide them with future employability. They also need to look at the cross- and upskilling individuals with talent within organisations to build the pipeline of skills and create a growing pool of talent that will serve the country as digital becomes further entrenched.