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Business Management

Kathryn Cave (South Africa) - Is 'Youth Mistrust' Holding Back the IT industry?

New research into South African professionals' perceptions of the IT industry highlights real concerns about the development of tomorrow's CIO. Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect discusses whether poor training or a general mistrust of younger workers is to blame.

Research we conducted last Summer showed that 56% of IT and business professionals globally believed entry-level workers had a different work ethic to older employees. This figure rose to a stunning 71% across the African continent. Our latest study reinforces this point. Today, an incredible 90% of the South African IT professionals we surveyed believe entry-level workers have a different work ethic to older employees.

This is especially significant in a country with such a young population. The majority is still under 30 and Index Mundi records the average age as only 25. Throughout history there have always been tensions between older and younger workers - the fuss about Generation X, for example, is well documented. But maybe, in a country with such a clear age divide, issues are bound to be more significant? Whatever the reason though, this overreaching trend does not bode well for tomorrow's key workers.

Our findings seem to show problems with younger workers that strike to the core of the South African IT industry. Perhaps this is simply because the sample veered towards older professionals - 45% had more than 20 years' experience. But less than 45% of those surveyed felt the ‘brightest talents are interested in IT careers', hinting at a general disparagement for the younger employees in their offices. On top of this, 93% saw a significant skills gap between entry-level workers and senior professionals.

The main stumbling block appears to be training. This is reiterated throughout our findings. 78% of those we surveyed felt that the IT industry was not investing wisely in the next generation of professionals. 50% believe it is hard to acquire the specific skills the African market requires. 83% agree that current IT employees lack the skills needed to move towards the cloud. Whilst only 35% agree and 6% strongly agree that they are satisfied with training and development opportunities at their organisation.

The question is: what impact will all this have on the future of the industry? Interestingly, just over half (52%) believe that South Africa will be a good place to be in five years' time. Comments to support this include: "There will always be opportunity for dedicated hardworking IT professionals in this country," and "Africa is developing rapidly... there will be ample opportunity to grow, develop and expand as an IT professional." However, more than three quarters (77%) do not think that there are good enough opportunities to develop future CIOs. Without provision for the leaders of tomorrow, surely the industry is at crisis point?

My gut feeling is that attitudes towards Generation Y lie at the heart of this. It can't be insignificant that our sample was made up of so many senior professionals. As Adrian Schofield put it "Every generation of "greybeards" looks back at what they went through at the start of their working lives and laments the deterioration of standards and complains that today's youngsters have it too easy."  Yet the problem here appears to be two-fold. Firstly, there is a general mistrust for younger workers. Secondly, there is an admission that there is not enough training to allow these people to succeed. With neither the encouragement nor the guidance, how can Generation Y do anything but fail?

Whichever way you interpret these results, this study of South African IT professionals' perceptions of their industry shows a shocking deficit of the skills necessary for the future. This implies a crisis waiting to happen. South Africa may have the biggest economy on the continent and a rapidly expanding IT industry, but without the right talent to drive it, it could be gearing up for one epic crash.

The full findings will be published on Monday 17th September.

By Kathryn Cave, Editor, IDG Connect

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