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Bridging the IT skills gap

Bridging the IT skills gap

AnalysisEast AfricaFeaturesNorth AfricaSouth AfricaTop StoriesWest Africa

The tech talent shortage has CIOs on the African continent scrambling to ensure that employees brush up on the latest skills and technologies that facilitate business agility. Among the domains in the highest demand: cloud computing, Machine Learning, data science, software engineering and cybersecurity. How are CIOs on the continent bridging the tech skills gap?

A lack of skills and resources has been either the number one or number two obstacle to achieving organisational objectives, according to the past four annual Gartner CIO surveys.

As technology continues to evolve, skills for the workplace must also evolve. It is obvious that those companies that effectively train their workforce to be proficient in relevant digital and future skills can better utilise the abundance of available digital products and services to increase their business success.

By 2030, more than 230 million jobs will require digital skills in Africa according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC, World Bank). Considering the current situation around the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers will possibly increase due to a significant rise in the demand for digital tools and processes. This is an important change in the nature of work and needs to be taken seriously by organisations of all kinds and its leaders. Developing the right skills is critical, not only for organisations but also economies to build and secure prosperity for all of involved in Africa.

Elmarie Grant, Head, Synthesis Academy, said increasingly, employers are looking to structured learnerships and internships to build the next generation.

“The reliance on tertiary institutions to produce candidates with good work ethic and practical experience has been replaced by work-based programmes that include a strong theoretical training base but allows participants to build a wider set of business skills while gaining practical, real-world experience,” she said.

Amrote Abdella, Regional Director: Microsoft 4Afrika, said as much as the industry talks about the need for intensive ICT investment into infrastructure and the technology that will support Africa’s engagement in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), this will not happen without the human infrastructure to support the technology.

Abdella said for Africa to fully realise the opportunities brought about by digital transformation and 4IR, it is vital we have strong ICT skills.

“We refer to this as having ‘tech intensity’ – the ability to not just adopt emerging technology, but develop the capabilities to effectively use it. Skills development has a crucial role to play, both in skilling new resources – our youth – and also in upskilling our current workforce to play their part in supporting ICT infrastructure development,” she said. “With the youngest population in the world, Africa can supply the world’s future workforce. But over 50% of young people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to formal education and only 2% of the labour force has IT skills.”

Fikile Sibiya, CIO, e4, said preparing a pipeline of leaders does not happen by chance, organisations need to be intentional about it.

Sibiya said the next generation of IT leaders are required to have much more than just technical skills, they are also required to have business, product, change management and customer experience skills – to name a few.

“Therefore, organisations need to identify future leaders, understand the changes and direction in the technology and business landscape and proactively equip such individuals with skills that are relevant for the future,” she said.

Tech talent squeeze

Marita Mitschein, Senior Vice President Digital Skills Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa and Managing Director, SAP Training and Development Institute, said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest – there is no doubt. Skills and lifelong learning are the key enablers for innovation adoption and form the foundation for effectively executing digital strategies.”

Mitschein said if one takes a look at what makes businesses successful in today’s era, it is their ability to continuously disrupt. “If you are able to create an innovative, collaborative and engaged workforce you will hereby build a resilient culture that will help to proactively respond to potential disruptions.”

She said it will take time to build and foster this culture, but it’s not mission impossible and the impact is enormous. “I am a firm believer that people are at the heart of Digital Transformation and empowering your workforce on innovation methodologies such as design thinking or business model innovation builds the foundation for an innovation culture and mindsets across your organisation,” she explained.

At BT, Bernadette Wightman, MD, Banking and Financial Services, said the technology skills shortage is not unique to Africa, but impacts countries around the world. Wightman said technology is evolving at such a rate that it is almost impossible to keep up, meaning that the skills gap is only widening as more innovative solutions are developed.

“Adding to this reality is an aging workforce that might not always feel comfortable in how best to embrace technological advances and the new way of working today,” she said.

Sandra Kutukwa, Senior HR Business Partner, e4, said the approach to talent management should take into account uncertainties and help employers build a predictable talent pipeline.

“Therefore, to stay at the forefront of talent development, e4 focuses on reskilling their workforces to deal with the new environment. More investment is needed in skills development and lifelong learning. Skills development will need to include human-centred skills, leadership skills and technical skills,” she said.

According to Synthesis Academy’s Grant, the first step is to identify talent with leadership potential – while leadership skills can be taught and acquired, the quick wins are often in approaching individuals who are already showing signs of affinity to leadership behaviours.

The next step, added Grant, is to accelerate their learning opportunities – whether these are through strong coaching relationships, formal training or other programmes, there needs to be a clear commitment to their development.

Mitschein said the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings major disruptions to labour markets and new categories of jobs are emerging, partly or wholly displacing others.

“Who would have thought five years ago that there will be the role of a chief happiness officer or a chief purpose officer? The skill sets required in both old and new professions are continuously changing in most industries. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the necessity to accelerate digital skill building in an increasingly digital world,” she said.

Creating a culture of success

Grant said culture is not created top-down, but cannot survive without clear executive input and behavioural incentives.

According to her, successful CIOs build cultures of accountability, respect and innovation by living these behaviours themselves and being deliberate about the ways in which they reward behaviour.

“For instance, if we want to foster a culture of learning, learning cannot be something that happens only outside working hours (when employees are often expected to self-study for certifications or accreditations required by the organisation). Creating frameworks that acknowledge learning time as working time and protecting that time to enable employees to meaningfully engage with learning material sends a clear message that learning is valued,” she added.

e4’s Sibiya explained that CIOs need to ensure that their teams and colleagues are comfortable with constant change and need to encourage autonomy by enabling opportunities for continuous learning. “CIOs also need to enable seamless integrations between IT and business teams,” she said.

Wightman said even though reskilling employees may feel overwhelming, it is a critical enabler to create strategic value in a digitally-driven environment.

She pointed out that the reality is that two-thirds of children who started school in 2016 will go on to have jobs that do not yet exist which emphasises the need to consistency reskill and upskill in business today.

“Universities, businesses and industry experts need to work together to ensure that the technology skills needed for the future are being incorporated into education programmes, as a means to improve on closing this gap. Digital skills are critical to the growth and survival of economies, however fixing the digital and technology skills shortage requires effort from both public and private entities,” she added.

CIO’s role

The tech talent squeeze on the African continent means CIOs must build deep leadership benches.In an environment where IT talent is in short supply, who should be in charge of upskilling, reskilling and training IT talent within an organisation?

e4’s Kutukwa believes the ideal approach is a partnership between HR and the CIO which ensures the delivery of the right quality of training and reskilling, in the right way and at the right time.

“In the case that one party fully takes the responsibility, there is a risk of disconnection in the training and reskilling. The CIO comes in with knowing the urgent training requirement for the business and HR assists with choosing relevant training programmes for the employees,” she added.

She explained that HR helps with understanding long term career-based training and the CIO values more of the actual technical and on-the-job training from a productivity point of view. “The CIO addresses departmental specific training needs as opposed to HR’s approach to training at a wide company level. A partnership approach thus yields the most effective results,” she noted.

Grant said there should be a strong, collaborative approach between HR and, learning and development teams. She said to be part of the conversation, HR should ensure they continually upskill not just in their own subject area, but in the business itself, as well as the business units they serve.

“A shared vocabulary around the technology and skill sets is critical for delivering the appropriate training interventions, being clear on competency frameworks and the reward programmes that link into them,” she pointed out.

“4Afrika’s partner-led SkillsLabs and the Interns4Afrika programme offer our graduate youths access to skills and certification, so that they are workplace-ready by the end of their programmes, and our Enterprise Skilling initiative works with employers to provide upskilling and reskilling opportunities to existing workers who want to improve their skills and move into 4IR positions,” Abdella added. “Developing skills to fill these new job roles remains high on our agenda. Regardless of age – whether students in schools, youth in and out of college, or today’s IT professionals – our mission is to empower every individual to achieve more by skilling, upskilling and reskilling them to lead a better quality of life.”

Abdella said through initiatives including Cloud Society, the AI Business School and partnerships with NGOs, governments, academia and businesses, Microsoft is helping to build digital talent pipelines for its partners and customers.

Looking ahead, e4’s Sibiya said organisations in Africa should partner with multinational vendors to bridge the IT skills gap.

“Part of the process of procuring vendor services, should be a knowledge transfer and reskilling or upskilling of talent in African organisations. I think another important partnership is between universities, multinational vendors, the government and business. The curriculum in universities needs to adequately equip the upcoming workforce with skills that are relevant to sustain the digital future of the continent,” she added.

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