SA ICT sector in a bind: ‘We can’t manufacture skills from thin air’
Sector lays out severe challenges at online Sanlam Gauge workshop
SA’s information and communications technology (ITC) industry is dominated by a few large enterprises, but most – 95% to be exact – are small, medium and microenterprises. This is a positive development except when it comes to transformation, as the size of these small enterprises lets them flout SA’s transformation agenda.
Earlier this month, ICT sector leaders joined an online workshop moderated by Andile Khumalo, co-founder of Sanlam Gauge, to discuss the industry’s impediments to transformation and to explore solutions.
The Sanlam Gauge report, released in May this year, measures the level of BEE activity in SA across sectors.
The workshop began with a recap of the ICT sector’s B-BBEE scores, presented by Lerato Ratsoma, MD of ratings agency Empowerdex. She expressed disappointment at the sector’s level-four B-BBEE contribution level.
The industry achieved a score of 21.1 points out of 25 for black equity ownership. Management control scored 12.4 out of 23 points. While the skills development score was 16.6 out of 20, enterprise development was rated 41.8 out of 50 and socioeconomic development 9.5 out of 12.
Speaking of the shortage of black executive managers in the ICT sector, Tiffany Dunsdon, CEO of specialised software provider Adapt IT, said the talent pool in SA remained small.
This related to whether young people got a good grounding at school level in science, technology, engineering and maths, stayed the course, studied further and eventually joined the industry.
“It takes years to get into management and be effective; it’s good to have come from a technical past,” she said.
“The consumption of ICT skills is exploding; it’s faster than we can produce [talent]. We can have a programme to build skills for tomorrow, but we have a shortage now.
“We can’t manufacture skills from thin air. We collectively need to take responsibility and grow them from within, instead of recycling the same small number [of ICT workers] around the economy and paying them more to job hop.”
Busisiwe Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership SA, appealed to the business constituency to take transformation more seriously: “As soon as we understand as business that our fortunes are linked to the fortunes of the broader SA society, the better.”
Mavuso said the sector’s B-BBEE scores were unacceptable. She added that the Covid-19 pandemic showed how the economic vulnerability of some segments of society increased the vulnerability of our society overall.
Kganki Matabane, CEO of the Black Business Council, expressed concern about private sector companies “ticking boxes, appointing a black woman to the board and to the executive for the purpose of gaining points”, and said the practice was unsustainable and not in the spirit of transformation.
Nomvula Tsatsi, director at the department of trade & industry, raised a concern about the apparent mismatch between the skills produced by the higher education sector and the skills needed by business.
Tsatsi asked whether higher education providers were being asked to ensure the skills they provided equipped graduates for the future, amid concerns about much-needed skills in the ICT sector.
To showcase what companies could achieve if only they were willing, Nompumelelo Mokou, MD of Dimension Data Southern Africa, spoke about some of the programmes her company ran, including its flagship Saturday School programme that helped youngsters master their school curriculum and exposed them to entrepreneurship.
There is also a Dimension Data graduate programme that not only targets ICT graduates but also takes in young people with various qualifications with the ultimate goal of “growing the timber”.
Khumalo challenged Mokou, asking why there was still a shortage of ICT skills in SA even though Dimension Data had been running such programmes for years.
“The war on talent is a global challenge that is not exclusive to SA. It must be addressed by further investments into legacy and future technologies for seamless integration to drive continuity. The advent of remote work has exacerbated the challenge of talent retention with global companies poaching SA talent to work on international projects. As employers, we need to do a lot more to retain our talent to avoid the great resignation,” Mokou said.
Andile Tlhoaele, chairman of the B-BBEE ICT Sector Council, spoke about why skills programmes were not producing results.
“Part of the challenge is that we start with skills,” he said. “The Act anticipated you would either bring in black executives or provide support. The skills provision is meant to sustain those interventions, not to keep people training all their lives and never getting opportunities.
“If you read the Act, it says give exposure and then use skills development to sustain that exposure. Up until now, we have not been implementing skills initiatives in that way.”
Tlhoaele added that the council had submitted management control targets for incorporation into a new bill under the Employment Equity Act because minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi planned to set sector-specific targets.
Closing the workshop, Theo Mabaso, chief information officer at Sanlam, thanked the participants for a robust and informative conversation. It was a pity the people who should have been listening to the conversation were not there, Mabaso said.
Key takeaways included the development of sustainable management control and ICT skills. It was clear the sector had to keep investing in such skills right from the developmental curriculum stage and address curriculum choices in schools. Mabaso also called for industry commitment in collaborating with small, medium and microenterprises in the ICT sector.
This article was paid for by Sanlam.
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