South Africa cutting IT backlog, developing skills at the same time
By Jessica Hawkey, MD at redAcademy
South Africa’s shortage of critical skills has been well-publicised, leading to organisations turning to offshoring of talent to ensure that they are able to carry out their technology-driven projects. However, forward-thinking companies are now taking an innovative approach that sees them working with strategic, long-term partners to develop the scarce skills that suit their specific business requirements and their own tech stack, while also completely addressing their IT backlogs at the same time.
Technology has become a crucial part of today’s organisations regardless of what areas of business they are involved in. While business leaders are having to take a more strategic view toward tech enablement, they are hampered by a severe lack of talent, with the rate of demand growing faster than they can bring in skills. As an example, local jobs portal, CareerJunction, points out that businesses and recruiters are having a particularly difficult time in finding skilled talent in a variety of IT roles, including software development.
This lack of talent is seen as an even bigger obstacle to the success of local businesses than more visible issues such as loadshedding and governance issues, which can be overcome. One of the ways in which businesses have sought to address the problem is through offshoring, or the practice of looking abroad to hire skills to work on their technology projects. This, however, comes with its own set of challenges.
Apart from uncertainties stemming from exchange rate fluctuations, which can have a detrimental impact on company finances, offshoring potentially results in organisations working with foreign-based individuals or teams who are not familiar with a businesses work culture or technology stack, or might even be working for competing organisations from other parts of the world.
There might be no line of sight into whether the solutions being offered by offshoring providers are developed uniquely for South African customers, or whether what they get is the same solution that is being provided to all their customers operating in similar environments. Then, there is also the risk of the loss or leakage of an organisation’s intellectual property.
As technology continues to permeate all aspects of the organisation, and forms a core part of their strategy, simply offshoring work without having any kind of strategic partnership will make companies overly reliant on offshoring providers and could develop into a significant business risk in the future.
Long term partners, not suppliers
Rather than only focusing on South Africa’s skills shortage, organisations have to look toward creating tangible solutions. What needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency is the slow pace of change, and high cost of education, which is a greater barrier to developing the critical skills that are required. Not getting this right, especially in light of the risks highlighted, is simply kicking the can down the road.
It’s becoming clear that what local businesses need are not suppliers, but long term partners that can help them sustainably address their skills challenges by taking an innovative approach to sourcing and developing talent. They also can’t all go fishing from the same pool of talent; they need to do something different and this requires being able to view South Africa’s huge youth population as an opportunity to close the technology skills shortage gap.
However, any youngster who has applied for a job knows that great importance is placed on workplace experience. But, without a job to start with, how do you gain experience? This is a conundrum that has raised much debate in the country, so much so that President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his latest State of the Nation Address, again called on private companies, government departments and State Owned Entities to remove the work experience requirement for young people seeking entry-level positions.
Of course, private sector companies are not simply employment agencies, but are looking for ways in which employees can immediately add value to their business. So then, how do they match their requirements, with the dire need to tackle the country’s youth unemployment crisis? It is here that innovative approaches to outsourcing and skills development have a crucial role to play.
To address these challenges, organisations such as redAcademy are placing the focus on developing the skills that are in demand by businesses rather than just an academic qualification that leaves the youth with no workplace experience at the end. By working closely with businesses, the curriculum can be tailored to ensure that youngsters have an understanding of an organisation’s workplace culture and its preferred technology stack while also getting to work on actual projects for the business.
Taking this approach doesn’t simply help develop skills; it means that these youth have been playing an active part in whittling down the businesses IT backlog and that they are familiar with the organisation and its activities by the time they finally join as employees at a later stage. Businesses for their part only pay for IT projects delivered, while standing to benefit from reduced recruitment costs, building a pipeline of talent and can ensure that their succession planning strategies come to fruition.
It is important to note that this is not simply a corporate social responsibility project that the South African private sector needs to be engaged in. Taking the partnership approach to skills development is not just about delivering the minimum specification at the lowest possible cost, but working closely with an organisation that understands their business and can help it grow. Viewing the country’s youth as a tremendous opportunity to be harnessed is crucial to the future of Corporate SA.
Not only can we heed the President’s call to give youth experience, but can go well beyond that and potentially turn South Africa into a globally competitive country from a technology skills perspective.