Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. Photo: Supplied
Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. Photo: Supplied

The Infonomist: Adequately addressing real tech skills challenge

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Nov 18, 2020

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EFFORTS to develop the required technology skills are not yielding the desired results. If the Google-IFC e-Conomy Africa report is anything to go by, South Africa and the African continent are in trouble.

According to the report, the continent has 700 000 developers, and South Africa has 120 000 developers. Those numbers may sound big, but they are nothing in comparison with countries in similar economies.

Latin America had 2 162 461 developers last year, with Brazil (573 400), Mexico (315 300) and Argentina (304 600) leading the region in total numbers. If this is not enough to illustrate the point, consider the following fact: in the US, the state of California alone has almost 700 000 (628 414) software developers.

There's no shortage of programmes designed to develop technology skills, yet South Africa and the continent lag behind in terms of adequate tech skills. There's something very wrong with the current skills development initiatives that are currently in place.

South Africa established what was known as ISETT-Seta to oversee skills development initiatives in the tech space. This entity was later changed and integrated with the media skills entity and was called the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT Seta).

The MICT Seta is a skills development institution established in terms of the Skills Development Act, to generate, facilitate and accelerate the processes of quality skills development at all levels in the MICT sector in South Africa.

The MICT sector is made up of five sub-sectors that are interconnected but also quite distinct and identifiable in their own right. They are advertising, film and electronic media, electronics, information technology, and telecommunications. Part of the problem with this entity is that technology skills development has been lumped together with advertising and film production. Having said that, the MICT has tried to develop tech skills through its programmes. However, these skills are not the right quality.

Another intervention in the skills development space has come from the private sector. There’s no shortage of colleges that offer technology skills programmes. The reality, however, is that even private colleges have produced very little in terms of quality technology skills. The tendency of most private colleges has been to focus on offering skills on how to “use” tools instead of focusing on the creation of technology.

What the public and private sectors have done so far is not adequately addressing the real tech skills challenge. If South Africa and the continent are to benefit from the almost $200 billion (about R3 trillion) potential of the internet economy, something very ambitious needs to be established to address the tech skills challenge.

South Africa needs high schools, colleges and universities that are dedicated to teaching in-demand technology skills. Such institutions will have to work with, and be partially funded by, the technology industry to align skills with industry needs. These institutions will have to incorporate work-readiness skills to avoid the current situation of producing graduates who are not ready to hit the ground running.

Last, students in the tech space need skin in the game in the form of starting their own tech companies, and this needs to form part of the curriculum of tech-dedicated institutions.

Of course, not everyone will start a tech company. However, those that have the appetite to do so need all the support they can get. This in part means that the funding of tech startups needs to start from training and education institutions that are focused on tech. Instead of sinking students in education debt, they need business funding to support their technology research to turn into tech enterprises.

The Google-IFC e-Conomy report should serve as a warning to the tech industry and, more importantly, inspire action and the creation of a tech skills war room.

Wesley Diphoko is the editor in chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @WesleyDiphoko

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