Training and Development

IT Skills Crisis South Africa: Jack of all Trades?

Just under two years ago, we produced a new piece of research, “Tomorrow’s CIO: Perceptions of the South African IT industry”. This revealed that 77% of South African IT professionals surveyed did not believe there were good enough opportunities to develop future CIOs.

We summarised these findings as an IT market at “crisis point” and many individuals agreed with us. And recently, although the thread is extremely old, a range of comments suddenly appeared around the topic on the “Proudly South African Information Technology Professionals” group on LinkedIn. Local feeling suggests that nothing has improved in the intervening 21 months:

“I feel like the IT market has always been in crisis since 2000,” wrote one business analyst. “Growth still happens, but [South African] companies have got to stop wanting to get someone who knows almost every single skill! I'll be moving to another company in the next few weeks, but before landing the upcoming job I saw hundreds of jobs that wanted to you to be an expert programmer in several languages, a seasoned modeller, a tester and a candlestick maker. This was all for one business analyst position!”

“If the companies had any sense,” she continued “they would attempt to hire people with say one or two areas of expertise with understanding of other areas (an understanding is certainly possible). In the long run they're only hurting themselves.”

This point of view received widespread support through a range of likes and comments: “I have to agree with [this],” responded a network infrastructure analyst. “Certainly companies expect one to be the jack of all trades.”

“Another sticky point is companies are not prepared to upskill the people,” he continued “the thinking if we do then they will leave, hence IT staff are considered to be high risk. This has led to many companies outsourcing or employing IT staff on a contract basis.”

One associate consultant suggested that the biggest danger to all this is that it “hampers” innovation: “Companies do not want to skill their employees, as a result they will always have little knowledge so they won’t leave the company.”

Whilst an IT graduate added: “Companies must just wake up and smell the coffee. I think it is dangerous to have one person doing everything. Different brains that complement each other are needed in a team. That's how great ideas will be born.”

“The survey is only a partial reflection and thus the survey tells a story that is based on analytical approach,” warned an IT project manager though: “If skills are only determined by piece of paper and not real world applied and proven know-how then the survey surely is correct.”

“I also do believe that money talks and companies are not willing to pay skilled and experienced ICT people their worth and thus do not attract the needed skills.”

“Therefore,” he continued “[as] the survey states that we have a skills shortage. Companies will attract what they are paying for. On the flip side [though] I do believe the quality of skills has lowered massively over the years. How do you create quality? Time (experience in field) and working with the best in the field.”

This point was seconded by one associate consultant who concluded, last week: “People with good IT Skills are leaving this country to seek greener pastures elsewhere. If IT companies can pay their employees what they [are] worth and enable them to develop their skills further then we will not have crisis. Truth be told, when you are a jack of all trades you'll hardly master any of those trades.”

Do you agree with this synopsis of South African IT skills?


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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