Anyone who has recently tried to appoint a chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO) will know how difficult it is to fill these roles due to the critical shortage of highly qualified and experienced tech executives. How small is this pool of talent in South Africa? Vanessa Rogers and Katherine Graham explore how a pipeline of digital skills can be created.
According to the 2021 ICT Skills Survey, there is a chronic shortage of IT skills needed to help South African businesses succeed in the digital age. The survey, done by Wits University and the Institute of IT Professionals SA, found that there is a yawning skills gap when it comes to filling thousands of IT positions.
This skills gap is being exacerbated by high levels of emigration among skilled professionals, as well as the fact that South Africa is now competing in a global war for skills. The trend towards working from home has only made it easier for international companies to scoop up promising South African talent.
Which IT skills are in highest demand?
“Jobs which are highly sought after in the IT economy are in cyber security, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, software development, blockchain, the internet of things and data science,” says Jeremy Bossenger, director at Boss Jansen Executive Search. “While these fields are fundamentally changing the business landscape, it remains a struggle for companies to find the right people to do this work.”
Some specific IT roles that are highly prized include:
- Cloud engineers: Cloud engineers build and maintain cloud infrastructure. They are responsible for managing, planning, designing and overseeing cloud solutions for organisations. Software engineers, who specialise in cloud computing, and cloud migration engineers, who understand cloud and infrastructure components, are similarly in high demand.
- Data engineers: Data engineers take care of a company’s data. They collect, manage and prepare data, so that it can be used for analytical or operational purposes.
- DevOps engineers: These IT professionals are responsible for implementing the right processes and tools throughout the software development life cycle, from coding and deployment to maintenance and updates.
- Java developers: These developers have an intimate knowledge of Java, a software language favoured by larger companies in South Africa and oversees. Java developers are able to develop IT applications, with a focus on front-end or back-end applications.
- Infrastructure architects: These IT professionals are responsible for designing, implementing and integrating information systems to support a company’s existing infrastructure. Infrastructure architects often work with business leaders to assess an organisation’s computer system needs and find the right solutions.
What can be done to boost digital skills?
The biggest obstacle to building digital skills to meet the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution remains a lack of adequate education and training.
“The IT skills gap is real, but we’re still not seeing enough skilled young people coming down the pipeline,” says Bossenger. “In order for this to happen, there needs to be a stronger focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at schools and universities, particularly among girls, and more opportunities for students to get work experience by doing internships.”
Bossenger says that many C-suite recruiters are no longer confining themselves to IT professionals when looking to fill CIO or CTO roles.
“Many executives who have a financial or legal background become interested in how IT systems work during the course of their career,” he comments. “They then develop a new skill set to be able to manage IT teams.”
Because of this, IT executives can be recruited from other disciplines, just as long as they are up to speed with the latest technology trends.
“Being able to grasp new concepts quickly in an ever-changing environment is hugely advantageous,” concludes Bossenger. “When we search for top IT executives, we’re looking for candidates with exceptional analytical ability, the agility to deal with a constant flow of information, and excellent communication skills.”