[business day] The shortage of South Africans with information technology (IT) skills is so acute it is making some South African businesses worried that they will be unable to survive, researchers say.
Last year 75% of the 157 businesses surveyed by online newspaper ITWeb and the University of the Witwatersrand's Joburg Centre for Software Engineering said the IT skills shortage was either having a major impact on their business or was affecting their viability, and in 2008 all 115 of the South African companies surveyed made this claim. With SA emerging from recession, it is arguable that this year the number making this claim could once again increase. (The 2010 survey is under way).
Despite the expansion in SA's telecommunications industry, and the way in which technological change has increased global demand for high-end IT skills because the various separate technologies such as voice, data and video are converging in new technologies, the numbers graduating in SA with high-end IT skills is not increasing significantly, says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of recruitment specialists Landelahni Business Leaders.
"We need a higher-skilled professional, but (business) is training for their immediate needs ... We are getting technicians, not engineers and designers," she says.
Part of the problem is that technology changes so quickly that there is traction between the number of suitably skilled professionals in the new technologies, and those with skills in existing technologies, says Burmeister.
If the survey's results are extrapolated across the whole sector it looks like SA needs about 72000 more people with IT skills, says Centre for Software Engineering applied research unit manager Adrian Schofield.
But, between 1996 and 2007 SA produced 17705 information and communication technology degree and diploma graduates, while in 2005 only 823 graduated with a degree in electronic engineering, and only 596 were awarded a computer science degree. In 2006 these numbers were 916 and 540 respectively and in 2007, 928 and 502.
The crisis is set to continue, or deepen because technology is advancing at what Burmeister calls "a blistering pace". A ccording to the International Labour Organisation, it is "the single biggest driver of skills shortages globally" -- SA business is in competition with global competitors for the world's best and brightest graduates, including South Africans.
Graduate recruitment is getting more aggressive every year, says Prof Sonia Berman, head of the University of Cape Town's computer science department.
IT graduates have choice -- 69% of those surveyed in the 2010 South African Graduate Recruiters Association candidate survey released yesterday said they had received several job offers, second only to teachers, of whom 100% say they had several job offers.
This comes as no surprise to Intel International legal and corporate affairs vice-president Shelly Esque . It is only because her company is so widely spread across the globe that it can overcome the skills shortage, she says.
"We're lucky. We can go where the talent is. We can open offices all over the world, but we're almost unique. For countries this is at crisis stage," she says.
Intel has poured billions of dollars into improving maths and science teaching worldwide and has "upskilled" more than 7-million teachers precisely because too few high-schoolers chose to study these subjects, with at least maths a prerequisite for a career in computing and technology .
US President Barack Obama has put 250m into increasing the number of science, technology, engineering, and maths teachers.
In SA the school education situation is worse -- SA was class dunce in the 2003 Trends in International Maths and Science Study, conducted in 46 countries and has fared badly in a study comparing maths results among southern African countries.
Schofield does not see light at the end of the tunnel.
"I do not see any rapid improvement in the supply of IT skills, largely because the necessary changes to our education system will take many years to become effective. We need to train teachers appropriately, change school curricula to raise the level of maths and science outcomes and enthuse the youth with prospects of worthwhile careers in the industry.
"Interventions at the post- school level are too late in the process ," he says.
South Africa: Skills Gap Has IT Firms Worried Over Survival