‘The largest inhibitor to the growth of IT service companies in South Africa is the access to suitably skilled resources. This manifests itself especially in the core software development skills like Java, .Net and mobile development’. These comments from Eric Veldboer, CEO of Alacrity, IT services and software solutions company, were echoed in our recent Digital Cape Town survey where the lack of digital and tech skills was listed as the ‘single biggest issue impacting on business growth’.
IT skills shortage is not unique to South Africa. In the UK, IT was the sector with the most job vacancies in 2015 according to jobs listing website, Adzuna, and a large number of those job vacancies are for Java skills. In the USA, Computerworld’s 2015 Forecast survey said that 24% of the companies surveyed plan to add more IT employees with 48% needing programming skills as the top skills requirement. In Beyond the Talent Shortage: How Tech Graduates search for Jobs, Indeed 2015, Cape Town ranks 28 out of the top 100 cities globally based on the number of job postings calling for Java skills which Indeed uses as a rough measure of employer demand for tech talent in a city.
Fortunately programmes are being created to address the IT skills shortage such as the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative’s (CiTi) Capaciti programme. By working with companies, Capaciti has created a number of courses to meet industry’s requirements. These include courses on CISCO and LINUX, Business and Systems Analysis courses, in collaboration with UCT, and various courses in Java – Java Fundamentals and Post Graduate Diploma in Software Development which includes Java. But as Alethea Hagemann, Skills Development Programme Lead of Capaciti says: ‘ Schools need to introduce coding earlier and only 5% offer programming. Schools also need to have a greater emphasis on teaching maths for a tech knowledge economy as universities are struggling with what they get from school’.
Another inspiring initiative is RLabs, a social enterprise aimed at upskilling the youth in computer skills, while fostering social good. In partnership with Accenture, RLabs offers Java, UX and end-user training for 18 – 25 year olds. What is unique about RLabs is that students earn online currency from either personal development or doing community service, and they spend this in the Youth Cafe. Their main office is in Athlone, but RLabs is now on five continents. CodeX, founded two years ago by TV producer Elizabeth Gould and former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan, also aims at creating agile developers.
Not only should South Africa address our local demand, but we should also aim to meet the global skills shortage and position Cape Town as an offshore development centre. As Eric Veldboer points out: ‘There is a huge potential for economic and employment growth in South Africa through the provision of offshore software application development services. There are a number of factors that help to position South Africa as an offshore development destination, especially for Europe, such as culture, language, time zone and cost efficiency’.