Efforts to develop the necessary technology skills are not yielding the desired results
If the Google-IFC e-Commerce Africa report is anything to go by, then South Africa and the African continent is in trouble.
According to the report, the entire continent has 700 000 developers. South Africa has only 120 000 developers. Those numbers may sound big however they are nothing in comparison with countries in similar economic conditions. Latin America had 2,162,461 developers in 2019, with Brazil (573,400), Mexico (315,300), and Argentina (304,600) leading the region in total numbers. If this is not enough to illustrate the point consider the following fact: the state of California in the US alone has almost 700 000 (628,414) software developers.
There’s no shortage of programmes designed to develop technology skills and yet SA and the continent still lags behind in terms of adequate tech skills. There’s something very wrong with the skills development initiatives that are currently in place.
South Africa established what was then known as ISETT-SETA to oversee skills development initiatives in the tech space. This entity was later changed and integrated with the media skills entity and got called, MICT. The Media, Information, and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA) is a skills development institution established in terms of the Skills Development Act of 1998, to generate, facilitate and accelerate the processes of quality skills development at all levels in the MICT sector in South Africa. The MICT sector is made up of five subsectors that are interconnected but also quite distinct and identifiable in their own right. These are advertising, film and electronic media, electronics, information technology, and telecommunications. Part of the problem and failure of this entity lies in the fact that technology skills development has now been lumped with advertising and film production. Having said that, the MICT has tried to develop tech skills through its programmes however those skills are not the right quality.
Another intervention in the skills development space has been mainly from the private sector. There’s no shortage of colleges that are offering technology skills programmes. The reality however is that even private colleges have produced very little in terms of quality technology skills. The tendency of most private colleges has focused on offering skills on how to “use” tools instead of focusing on the creation of technology.
The combination of what the public and private sector have done so far is not adequately addressing the real tech skills challenge.
If South Africa and the continent is to benefit from the almost $200 billion potential of the internet economy something very ambitious needs to be established to address the tech skills challenge.
South Africa needs high schools, colleges, and universities that are dedicated to teach highly in-demand technology skills. Such institutions will need to work and be partially funded by the technology industry to align skills with industry needs.
These institutions will have to incorporate work readiness skills to avoid the current situation of producing graduates who are not ready to hit the ground running.
Lastly, students in the tech space need skin in the game in the form of starting their own tech companies and this needs to form part of the curriculum of tech dedicated institutions.
Of course, not everyone will start a tech company however those that have the appetite need all the support they need to start their own companies. This partly means that the funding of tech startups needs to start from training and education institutions that are focused on tech. Instead of sinking students in education debt, they need business funding to support their technology research to turn into tech enterprises.
The Google-IFC e-Conomy report should serve as a warning bell to the tech industry and more importantly inspire action and creation of a tech skills war room.
Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. Follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko