Human Resources

Douglas Cohen (South Africa) - The IT Skills Gap is Everyone's Business (Part 2)

In part one of this article on the IT skills gap, published last week, I explored the implications of the shortage of IT skills in South Africa and the wider world. So where can we start to look beyond the challenges for practical, but also sustainable solutions to attract and retain IT skills, especially at the municipal level? Below are some of my thoughts/proposals:

Train More and More Effectively

Municipalities all contribute to a National Skills Fund, managed by the Local Government Sector Training Authority LG SETA). LGSETA is expected to support municipalities to:

•    initiate learnerships;
•    approve workplace skills plans that potential employers produce;
•    provide funds for employers, trainers and workers; and
•    observe and scrutinize education and training in their particular sector.

The bottom line is that if ICT skills are such a challenge at local government, then municipalities must engage with LGSETA, which is responsible for the success or failure of education and training within that sector. While only expected to provide skill and capacity building models, monitor and ensure that the models work, LGSETA and municipalities should follow the example of how the private sector invests in ICT skills. This can be done through a combination of on-the-job training and mentoring as well as certified short courses and vendor certifications.

The Network Effect

Local government could have a major impact on the ICT skills market by itself becoming a more proactive and high profile user of ICT. By sharing and extending the benefits and advantages of ICT technologies to their communities the network effect will ensure that their municipal services will become more valuable as more people use it, thereby encouraging ever-increasing numbers of adopters. By setting the trend in adopting technologies it will not only raise the profile, prominence and importance of ICT which will shift resources (salary, position etc) internally to attract the right kind of ICT employees to sustain the change.

Strategic Sourcing and Procurement

The speedy and efficient delivery of services must be prioritized across all municipal levels through the formation of partnerships with local businesses. Given that the greater involvement of local partners is a very crucial factor in the bidding, implementation and support of IT projects, they must also be regarded as an opportunity for skills/capacity development. Using a more strategic sourcing and procurement approach, municipalities can use their IT spend to both support more local operators as well as specifically include elements such as local skills transfer, youth development and/or small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) support as part of any municipal ICT tender.

Think Long-Term and Developmental

South Africa’s basic education system needs to become more aggressive in assisting children to develop an interest in technology from a young age, to ensure we are cultivating a large and relevant ICT skills base. Municipalities must play a more proactive role in ensuring both access to technology and the development of e-skills in the schools and the youth in their communities.

Economies of Scale through the Cloud

Broadband offers so many advantages ranging from reduced connection costs to increased speeds and the capacity to handle large volumes of data transfer. A lot of local municipalities are not aware of this trend or rather have not taken a keen interest in researching network connectivity areas, which have so many advantages with regards to information transfer and communication within the work environment. Municipalities are beginning to realize that effective broadband access is essential if the benefits of many of the other areas of development are to be felt.

Broadband takes away the need for ongoing hands-on support, and rather opens up opportunities for managed ICT services, virtualization, software-as-a-service, mobile and wireless as well as cloud computing. In theory such cloud computing could reduce the level of technical capability which municipalities depend on to operate.

By Douglas Cohen, a specialist in economic development and ICT and works at the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). You can email him at dcohen@salga.org.za.


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