Despite the hype, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has not changed IT skills demand and supply in South Africa, but change is coming, finds a new report.
The tenth edition of the South African ICT Skills Survey carried out by the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University and the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) has found that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has not yet had a significant impact on the South African ICT skills landscape.
Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the JCSE at Wits University, said: “South Africans are being told that everything is changing and we need all new skills in the 4IR, but my belief is that the phrase 4IR is being used as a catch-all for a number of things – many of them encompassing the kind of evolutionary digital transformation we have seen over many decades.
“However, the 2019 ICT Skills Survey does indicate that the hype around 4IR is driving people to start looking at upskilling.”
The survey found that almost all enterprises and all practitioners felt a need for more upskilling to meet the needs of the new era of digitalisation. Despite this finding, there are no signs of a wide-scale upskilling taking place at this stage, said Dwolatzky.
In addition to the evolutionary change already taking place, Prof. Dwolatzky predicts that revolutionary change is likely to have an impact in South Africa in the foreseeable future.
“Revolutionary change is that which drives a quantum leap, bringing a whole new digital model. This is something we are not really seeing in South Africa as yet, but there are signs that in years to come, digital disruptors could suddenly spark revolutionary change in traditional sectors, which will impact on skills and jobs,” he said.
SA enterprises move to overcome skills shortfalls
The survey showed a distinct drop in the number of organisations saying ICT skills shortages were having a major impact on their business. Less than half said ICT skills shortages were impacting their businesses in 2019, compared with virtually all saying they were feeling a major impact ten years ago.
At the same time, 37% of respondent employers now say they are recruiting ICT skills overseas – a sharp increase on 2018.
“Our overall sense of what is happening in the ICT skills field from the employer perspective is that there is a slowing in the demand for skills but that the ongoing pressure from the introduction of new and innovative technologies continues to ensure that the skills gap is not closing,” said Adrian Schofield, production consultant: IITPSA and consultant: Applied Research Unit, JCSE.
Also helping overcome the skills shortage is the ongoing tendency of South African ICT practitioners to multi-task, said Schofield.
The average South African ICT practitioner continues to perform multiple task sets, with only a few identifying their role as “specialist” in nature. “This is a unique property of South African ICT practitioners, which makes us very different from our counterparts in Europe and the US and may partly have come about as a result of skills shortages,” he said.
The survey found that the skills most needed now and over the next year include:
- Information Security / Cybersecurity
- Big data design / analytics
- Artificial intelligence / machine learning
- Test automation / performance testing and
- Internet of Things
Although we are beginning to see more emphasis on the newer competencies, the skills in demand have not changed significantly since 2018, but disruption in traditional markets could drive rapid change in future, Prof. Dwolatzky said.
“Internationally and in South Africa, disruption is set to change things, but nobody is quite sure how. For those hoping to future-proof their skills, my advice is to acquire good foundational knowledge, and learn to become good problem solvers, good communicators and good self-learners to stay abreast of any change that comes.”
Schofield noted in the report: “There is an urgent and persistent need to raise the game in the education pipeline and it is incumbent on the private sector to drive the required changes through partnership with government and expansion of the many initiatives taking place.
Equally important as strengthening the skills pipeline is the creation of work opportunities for the newly-skilled. Without some serious government re-thinking on rebuilding the economy, it is not easy for the private sector to increase the number of jobs and other value-add economic opportunities. As with education initiatives, there are examples of job creation that offer hope for the future.”
Key findings of the 2019 ICT Skills Survey include:
- Virtually all respondents said they felt a responsibility to help their employees reskill to meet the new era of digitalisation.
- Virtually all ICT practitioners who responded felt they needed to reskill themselves in view of the changing digital environment.
- Less than half of enterprises polled said ICT skills shortfalls were having a major effect on their business – a significant drop since 2008, when all businesses said an ICT skills shortage was having a major effect on their business.
- The percentage of respondent employers recruiting overseas in 2019 has risen to 37%.
- Online recruitment has overtaken traditional methods as the preferred platform for local recruitment.
- Unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, South African ICT practitioners commonly multitask, performing several different roles.