South Africa is losing skills and talent to huge salaries abroad

 ·11 Aug 2022

The Department of Home Affairs published the latest list of critical skills needed in South Africa, citing the need for a host of tech skills which included ICT System Analysts, Chief Information Officers, Software Developers, and Systems Engineers.

Phumzile Hlatshwayo, who heads up Human Capital at Altron Systems Integration, says the skills shortage in South Africa’s tech sector is growing exponentially and it is incumbent on businesses to ensure the demand is sustainably filled through robust talent development and retention strategies.

For an organisation like Altron Systems Integration, which sports a workforce of over 1,300 employees, Hlatshwayo said scarce skills are those that tend to go hand-in-hand with innovation.

“This goes beyond traditional Network Engineering and traditional IT skills directed to End-Users. We are looking for IoT, Data, Cloud, DevOps engineers, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and more,” said Hlatshwayo.

Over and above a lack of skills pool, entry-level or graduates, she said the overwhelming demand for these skills is also exacerbated by certification demand. Hlatshwayo said certifications in popular technology systems like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cisco, Microsoft, and other tech companies of this scale and ubiquity in the market.

“Our company, since it’s a Systems Integrator, is working closely with these OEMs to ensure that more people are getting certified in these systems,” said Hlatshwayo.

“It is these systems that businesses and our customers depend on, so we desperately need to train more graduates and existing employees in these skills through the requisite training and certification platforms and programmes. That means partnerships play a key role in closing the skills gap.”

With that being said, Hlatshwayo believes the skills deficit is beyond South Africa.

“It wasn’t long ago that this was only a challenge for our country. Now that hybrid working has taken hold, the war for talent is raging all over the world, and countries like ours will turn into the biggest loser.”

That is if we don’t get intentional about building skills from scratch, retain, lead in a fit-for-purpose manner, and manage talent properly, she said.

With so much tech talent in the local workforce finding opportunities overseas, she says it is critical to keep these skills in the country – however that doesn’t always come down to monetary remuneration.

“In South Africa, we are struggling to compete with huge global salaries and currencies, but money is not everything,” said Hlatshwayo. “You won’t believe the number of people we have knocking back on our doors craving more flexibility, seeking a better culture, or craving leadership they can look up to.”

Hlatshwayo said talent attraction and retention in tech come down to fostering the right environment and leadership.

“You are not going to win if you remain the traditional stale, boring organisation people have come to resent. You need to nurture a culture that resonates with employees, has leadership that is authentic, and nurture an environment in which talent can grow and develop.”

When returning employees are interviewed, Hlatshwayo said one of the top reasons for returning is culture.

“People will even return to their previous salary package or insignificant adjustment so long as the culture fits their expectation,” she says. “Culture starts with leadership, so we have always striven to connect and engage our leaders with our people as a way of working.”

With skills being a central focus for tech, Hlatshwayo believes this provides a healthy reminder that people lie at the centre of all industries.

“We are a people business. You may know us for tech, but who do you think delivers that? We must put humanity first and then people will buy into your vision and deliver to your customers. This begins and ends with culture, leadership, and growth,” she said.

Read: Companies in South Africa are turning to pay hikes and flexible hours to attract skills in these sectors

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